“I have always heard that icons represented ‘windows into heaven,’ glimpses of the glory of the life to come, hinted at in golf leaf and vivid colors suggesting fullness of life. But our speaker countered this view by pointing out that we don’t really need ‘windows’ as much as eyes that are opened up to see what is around us here in this life. For in Orthodox thought heaven is not so much ‘another place’ that needs to be peered into but rather the quality of life in Christ which begins here through the power of his resurrection. In this view, eternal life includes the day-to-day getting there, the faithful journey of the saints as they are permitting glimpses of glory that punctuate everyday life, especially as they are revealed in us in corporate worship. No wonder Orthodox services tend to be so long-with seemingly endless choir responses and many opportunities to grasp the beauty of joy of resurrection, especially as it is celebrated in the season of Easter.” Isabel Anders, Awaiting the Child, Cowley, 1987, 2005.
A recent short dream has called me back to a daily use of icons as my spiritual practice. In the dream the icons for my hard drive and my backup on my computer desktop have suddenly disappeared, but the icons for the documents I am working on are still there on my desktop. I have difficulty understanding that, for the desktop icons should not be there without the hard drive. My dream group and my spiritual director tell me that this may mean the hard drive and backup are still there but hidden. The things which I use for support that I think I have lost are still there but hidden.
One of the people in my dream group with much computer experience reminds us that icons are also called short cuts. This is a new understanding of icons. Computer icons help us get to information that is behind them more easily. That is what icons on our desktop as well as religious icons do! Religious icons are short cuts, often also called windows to connecting to God, but Isabel Anders tells us there is much more to it. They are also exercises recognizing beauty and God so that we can transfer that skill to the presence of God all around us. So, icons could also be considered the cliff notes, a concentrated experiential practice of awareness, connecting us to the kingdom here on this earth.
I hope my icon friends will not view this as trivializing the spiritual practice of using icons, for my own desk and walls are covered with so many icons so that everywhere I turn I can hope to connect to them. Icons help me stop in my busy day to remember what the day is all about.
All this is just my inadequate attempt to introduce others to icons who may be afraid to use them for fear that these are foreign practices or idol worshipping.
Spending time with a favorite icon, especially one of Mary and Jesus is a favorite Advent meditation of many spiritual friends.