Dane Johnson is a writer based out of Northern California. In 2013, he was a founding student in an experience-based graduate program, engaging in apprenticeships and self-guided projects as an alternative form of higher education. During this program, he travelled to an Orthodox Christian monastery in New Mexico where he lived and prayed alongside a small brotherhood for three months. The experience led him to an awareness of another mode of existence and, eventually, to Chrismation in July 2015. You can read more of his writings, and sign up to receive his newsletter, by visiting his website: www.ramblewithaplan.com
I wasn’t raised to kiss or venerate icons.
My spiritual leaders told me it was an archaic form of idolatry.
So I sought the attributes of divinity in nature, human faces and modern melodies.
I smelled fragrance of God on all of them.
But then I sought refuge with a brotherhood of monks.
They embraced me like the prodigal.
In their monastery, they honored depictions of never-dead saints painted on wooden rectangles reverently placed throughout their space.
These saints were treated like living family; positioned for intercession at life’s many intersections.
I grew to love them.
If the soul is eternal, I mused, these deceased ones are still alive now, somehow.
I came to know them like you know an author or an artist or a musician long dead.
They’d lived a masterpiece of a life still spanning space and time.
I got to know them by what they gave in life.
Yet, even in physical absence, they were still giving, as could be witnessed by flowing myrrh upon the face of St. George.
Two days ago, a year separated from the brotherhood and their iconic company, I was contacted from beyond the ether.
A stranger told me about a weeping Theotokos in Cicero, IL, so I searched for the image on Google.
Her picture brought past into present.
And I was compelled to ask her what pains her most.
My adult self concluded that a water line must’ve broken; bursted pipes perfectly aligned behind her painted tear ducts.
My child self still wants wonder in the world.
Seeing her mourn revealed reflected hurts I’d projected onto her.
I know she can bear the pain for me while I come to terms with the pain itself.
Like any loving mother, she lets you fall apart in her arms.
“You’re just an icon,” I downplay.
“We all are,” she replies.
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