This is the icon wall in my office. I’m not Catholic, nor do I frequently pray with icons. We use them in our Taize services on Wednesday evenings, sitting on the altar. The three of us choose the two icons that we feel would enhance the service that evening. But today isn’t Wednesday. And I am alone in the office at the moment.
It is an odd feeling to me sometimes to sit at my desk under this wall and look up to see all these faces. Normally I don’t care for looking at portraits. There’s something eerie and watchful about them, something about all those eyes that bothers me. But today it feels different. Today I feel like these saints of old understand something of what I am doing. They are in cahoots with me as I prepare for my work.
There is also presence. They are with me. They went before me and more will continue after me, yet we all seek something similar: the transformation that comes from the Holy Spirit of God, in whatever shape, name or culture that appears wherever and whoever we are. We work for the same goals: peace, justice, love, mercy, wholeness, compassion. They aren’t watching me to be sure I don’t stray from the path. Rather I watch them and I feel the weight of this calling on my life. To be anointed by God for the work of God is a humbling and amazing thing.
I am not alone. When I read scripture, this cloud of witnesses reads it alongside me. When I pray, my prayers are unified with others. Each time I participate in communion, I do so in mystic company with all those who have gone before, those all over the world, and those who are not yet.
Each of these icons represents the story of a life. Each one of these people lived, as I do, eager to do and to be all that they could, for the purpose of Love and Light and Peace. Looking at them, it is hard not to imagine what that looked like in their lives: the pain, death, glory, unity. It’s all there in this collection of human experience.
Today I offer up thanks to these saints and for these saints. I also give thanks for the people who recognize their contribution to the work of God in the world, who prayed thee icons into being. Someday, when the time is right, I would aspire to learn this dedicated and specific prayer form: painting an icon. I hear it takes years to learn. I hope I have years to give.