Friday, December 08, 2006

Icons for Today

The Getty Museum in LA is hosting a show of icons from the monastery of St. Catherine at the base of Mt. Sinai. We visited both the show and attended a lecture on the monastery and its role in protecting and preserving iconography last night. It was my first visit to the Getty Museum and at sunset. The architecture and view of the LA basin and the sun setting over the ocean was overwhelming. And the museum is FREE, just an $8 parking charge. I'm going back there!
The show of icons caught my attention after my six years of rumaging around the notion of sacred space, romanesque architecture in southern France and just how we use and abuse our sacred space today.
1. Icons tell time. A number of the icons were calendars, illustrated pictures of saints' days for veneration and remembrance. They were laid out like any calendar we use, only filled with detailed pictures of various saints. These kinds of icons help the faithful tell time.
2. Icons tell us use. Some icons were embroidered on stoles and vestments, chalices, crosses and patens. These icon figures instructed the users just what the item was intended to do, represent and reference back to. Hand gestures of blessing, the proper holding of crosses and postures of prayer were included.
3. Icons instruct how to occupy space. Icons placed around a sanctuary guided worshipers, often pilgrms who could not speak the language of the area, what a particular space in worship was intended for. They could prompt prayer as the icon told a story in the life of Moses or Jesus or John, or some more recent holy person. The icons would visualize what the annunciation could have looked like. Icons energy was not in the figures, but in the dim light of candles and lamps, the flickering energy came as the light reflected off of the gold leaf surrounding the figures.
On the ride home, I asked the question; are seeker sensitive churches, like Willow Creek, inherently "iconclastic" in that they reject all imagery except electronic? Iconclasm was an eaerly church reaction against the perceived worshiping of icons as idols. Icons were labelled as bad in and of themselves. Can we behave iconoclastically when we reactively reject a tradition? Just thinking!


At 10:19 AM , Anonymous Gary Means said...

First of all, even though envy is a sin, I'm blatantly envious. I am fascinated by icons. In fact, as soon as I finish an overdue commissioned piece, I plan to start on painting an icon. It will be Christ as Pantocrator. Not sure if I'll use gold leaf. Ideally so.

Interesting questions, as always. I'll give more thought to your query regarding iconoclasm.

At 10:52 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Go to the Getty Website and you can receive a free cd from them on the icon show

At 11:19 AM , Anonymous Gary Means said...

cool. I will. thanks!

At 3:01 PM , Blogger Rick said...

Donn - you need to find yourself a copy of the CD "Images of Faith" by Marty McCall. It is an incredible collection of songs with contemporary authorship yet rooted in the sounds and content of the medieval period. Very cool music including a song called "ICON" - lyrics follow and then a link where you can listen to a sample.

In a small and gilded frame
A painting with no artists name
Bright visage of the One I love
With angels circling high above

Glory's window on the wall
I cannot look through it at all
Yet peeing deeper in, I see
Brief glimpses of His love for me

His red and blue embroidered robe
And halo crested round with gold
These royal garments cannot hide
His meek and humble heart inside

Before his loving, knowing eyes
From sorrow's ash my hope does rise
Kind image made of paint and wood
reminds my heart to seek His good

A picture for my soul's appeal
A pale reflection of the real
Still brings sweet comfort to this place
Until I see Him face to face



At 4:14 PM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Thanks Rick, I'll go there. Great lyrics!

At 9:58 PM , Blogger Ted Gossard said...


Good post and it would be great to visit that museum. I kind of doubt, in the stronghold of Calvinism where we live, that we'll have an icon exhibit here anytime soon. Though the times are changing here.

I think the major obstacle in us evangelicals, is simply lack of knowledge. We don't understand, and have some preconceived ideas that basically view statues and pictures as substitutes for true worship of God in spirit and truth. Something like that. And we don't want people to confuse us with churches that practice such things.

I know a good and knowledgeable brother in Christ, who sees all pictures of Christ as idolatrous. He is an iconoclast, to be sure.

At 12:59 AM , Anonymous Brandon Waybright said...

Hey, I never told you. I was in egypt this past summer. We climbed mt. sinai and spent a day in st. catherines. It is one interesting place.


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