As our e-mail conversation about icons continued, we moved into more of a give-and-take format, so you’ll see lots of quoting and commenting on things we posted last week. In a couple of places, I’ve added some material for clarity and to round out my observations. Again, my comments here are in blue, but I’ll leave Stephen’s in black this time for easier reading.
March 29, 2012
Sorry for the slow reply, Stephen. My work schedule combined with spotty internet connectivity has made this a tough week to telecommunicate. Some brief notes below:
I might suggest calling this series “Rearranging Icons,” which definitely gives a visual aspect!
Yes, and I think most people never realize this. We Protestants have scrubbed our religious culture of obvious icons, but have become tone-deaf to the meaning and power of the iconic images we’ve gathered to fill that void, many of which send incoherent messages or clash with one another because they’ve been adopted without much thought. I’ve seen some references to the plasma screen as a modern Protestant icon. Where you do find art displayed in Protestant churches, it’s often a grab-bag of popular images like the “praying hands” you mentioned, or Richard Hook’s Jesus pictures, or the bearded gentleman praying at a table set with a cup and a loaf of bread, or more recently, Thomas Kinkade’s work. Our pastors may not wear vestments, but they have their dark suits and power ties (or chinos and polo shirts). We’ve got lecterns, and banners, and, still, some stained glass windows.
“I do not worship matter, but the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation.”
— St. John of Damascus
One illustration I find useful is the scene you’ll find in most WW II movies focusing on the fighter or bomber pilots–The pilot settles into the cockpit, and we see he’s taped a photo of his wife or sweetheart to the instrument panel. He kisses his fingers, touches the photo, and then cranks the engine and takes off. Always makes my eyes water a bit. He’s not in love with the photo, he’s in love with the woman the photo represents, and he’s making a powerful spiritual and physical contact with that woman via the photo. It’s a window that opens onto reality. The photograph brings to mind a host of memories and emotions that encompass the truth and totality of his relationship with a very real person.