Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Creativity, transcendence, and Orthodox icons

Lately I've found myself thinking about all the other Christian denominations besides mine and being increasingly curious about them. I suppose I am titrating my faith a bit. In the midst of this I heard an NPR podcast "Speaking of Faith" that caused me to think about the Eastern Orthodox church and their use of icons.

I have an affinity for the Orthodox Church because they read icons. That and, the Orthodox church is just as old as Catholicism which intrigues me. Sometimes I wonder if icons are as sacred, or even more so, than scripture? Icons are in some respects pictorial scriptures and some of them were made around the same time as the bible.

Icons for me have a beyondness in them. (Granted it's not as beyond as nature, trees, ocean...) but it's still beyond just words on a page. I find icons and their symbolism and art a bit more transcendent of time and humanity than the Bible. For me the Eucharist, art, icons, nature, the Holy Spirit, and spiritual disciplines like fasting and silence/solitude let me take a step back from the human elements of the church and let God be transcendent.

The transcendence of God is something that American Evangelicals don't really talk about a lot and I think that's sad. It's sad because we forget that as humans ultimately we can't read God's mind. We can't explain so much of why and how God works. In addition to transcendence icons are also creative like God is creator. I like that God's identity as creator is evident in icons. All of this is something that the Orthodox church seems to bring as a gift to the larger christian community.

The main critique about icons from evangelicals in particular is that they are idols. And this critique always reminds me of a quote I heard once which was this. "The bible doesn't save you God does". For some Christians the Bible has become god. Can the bible be an idol? Hmmm. I'm not going to go there. I'm just saying right now it feels to me like the church needs some spaciousness, poetry, icons, art... really anything that will point to the transcendence of God. Maybe it would be the antidote to evangelicals becoming so myopic.


JJ said...

When I was teaching at a school in Central America (Belize, to be specific), a priest used to come in and give catechism lessons to my students and sometimes I would listen in. The lesson he gave on icons was particularly interesting to me because I was brought up in that evangelical tradition of believing that catholic icons were idols, but he made an interesting distinction (of course, simplified for 8 year old ears). Idols, he said, take attention away from God, where as icons direct you towards Him. Made sense to me, anyway.

just me said...

jj thanks for the comment. I like what this person said to you. It totally makes sense. And it's probably why icons and art is so powerful for me spiritually. :) Good word.