Something is happening
Something is going on. Last Monday at noon, registration for our week-long summer icon workshop opened. This workshop is over-subscribed every year. People travel from beyond Virginia to take up residence in Richmond for a week to take part, so we knew folks were going to pounce right at noon.
And sure enough, people were lined up at the front desk, with their checks already written well in advance; they started sending messages to staff at 5:00 a.m., making sure they understood how to register; and they were calling the office steadily all morning. One woman was traveling, so she set her phone alarm for noon, and when it went off she pulled over to the side of the road and called the church.
I couldn’t help but wonder: where is all this energy about icons coming from?
Years ago, an Episcopal priest in an urban parish noticed that all kinds of people were coming in increasing numbers to his noonday service of Benediction – a time of silence in which people simply knelt before the consecrated bread on the altar, Christ bodily present there, in wordless prayer and adoration. He concluded that people were becoming more visually oriented. We don’t want more words or movement; we crave silence, stillness, and beauty.
To some, icons look like “flat” or “primitive” paintings. But to those with eyes to see, to the people clamoring to register for this workshop, icons and the process of painting (or “writing”) them are much more. To growing numbers of people, icons, quite simply, are healing. They invite a cherished depth of silence and stillness of the heart where God is waiting for us. They are a way in, a doorway to the eternal realm that is always around us and always within us, but that is increasingly closed off to us by lives that are dominated by noise and movement.
I was pondering all of this the other night as I was leaving church to go home. On my way out, a parishioner was coming in. “I’m going to my ‘Photo Voice’ meeting,” she explained. This is a group of 25 Christians and Muslims who meet here every two weeks to share photos they’ve taken in their everyday lives, images that represent some aspect of their faith. Instead of sharing doctrines or theologies, they share pictures. “We know our religious practices can be very different,” the parishioner told me, “but we’ve discovered our vision is remarkably the same.”
Something is happening. It feels to me as if the grip of reason and theological argument is giving way to the gentler embrace of intuition, freedom and the beauty of holiness. It feels like the Holy Spirit.