God loves us, and we can find this to be so in the beauty that surrounds us. Sometimes we are watching and listening for it. Sometimes we are not.
Icons have a special, deep beauty that can help us to be aware of God’s love for us and for all sorts of truth and awesomeness. Seeing the beauty, awe, and truth in an icon requires being open to and aware of it.
Two recent moments reminded me of this.
The first reminder culminated in this little poem.
Flowered tendril filigree
Leaves curled and trim
Shapes and knots
Red blue ochre and white
Animal hair offered
Now far from home
By holy vigil Light
Your dismissed face
Numberless shod feet
Kiss with soil and dust
Humility shows its might
This poem was germinated while I was transfixed by the rug in the back of my church. It is a beautiful rug. It has intricate patterns and wonderful colors. I tried to imagine the time and skill and inspiration that went into making it. As I was thinking about these things, and kind of even imagining weaving the rug myself, it happened. The usual happened. Someone walked…ON…the carpet. In my day-dreamy state, I was momentarily startled that someone was walking across a masterpiece. As I came to my senses, I realized and remembered that this is what happens. People walk on rugs.
It might be a bit of a stretch, but the pseudo-desecration of this rug struck me as an example of a specific aspect of our humanness. In our humanness we sometimes do not notice beauty. We turn our heads away from glorious sunsets, walk past flowers, ignore people’s faces, the list is endless.
Being aware of beauty, including of course the deep and sublime beauty seen in icons, is something that can even serve to help us enter into a more intimate relationship with Christ.
However, as I have observed with that humble rug, beauty and the awareness of beauty do not always go hand in hand.
A second recent event also illustrated this. Waiting for a wedding service, a Byzantine choir sang in the half hour preceding the formal service. During this pre-ceremonial interim, they sang the “Polyeleos,” “A Good Word,” and Saint Nectarios’ famous “Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride.” The voices in the choir were angelic. It was a smallish yet vocally powerful choir of 6 male and 3 female voices. They were twenty-something- and thirty-something-year-olds. They were devoted, practiced, disciplined, young Orthodox Christians filled with fiery holy passion and love as they belted out their renditions. They sang each song, seamlessly flowing from English to Arabic and to Greek. The sublime beauty and humility of the choir reminded me of the martyred Persian rug. While they sang, the gathered crowd in their anticipatory, excited humanity was chatting boisterously. Mostly, their chatting drowned out the choir.
This masterpiece too was being walked on.
Rugs are walked on and missed or dismissed. So too, sometimes, in our humanity, is so much other beauty. Beautiful chanting and architecture and vestments sometimes get “walked on.” Icons too? Why would they be an exception? We have “walked on” all of these things at one time or another.
Trusting in the grace and mercy of God, I would say it is OK when we miss and dismiss beauty. All offerings offered in humility and love are never vain. At the very least, God hears, sees, and knows about every note, brushstroke, and woven strand. (And that “very least” is no little thing!) Sometimes, though, by the same grace that would forgive our dismissal of beauty, we are struck by beauty. When this happens, we break away from earth and experience the love of God.
[Rug photo courtesy Jeff Baker Photography]
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