Katie Snipes Lancaster
Scripture: John 12:45
Jesus said, “And whoever sees me sees the One who sent me.”
Spiritual Practice: Iconography
Iconography comes from two familiar-ish greek words, eikon (image) and graphein (writing). Iconography is simply “image writing” or “image describing.” In the most broad sense of the word, it refers to the visual shorthand communicating a message through images (think emoji). In Christian history, iconography is a practice of creating a visual shorthand of faith that illuminates the presence of God in the world. An image of Jesus on the cross, Jesus as an infant with his mother Mary, Jesus in the creche: all of those recognizable signs connect us both to Jesus himself and to the grand narrative of our faith.
If you have a foot in the Orthodox Christian world/s, iconography might be familiar to you. When you enter an Orthodox Church you may kneel or bow before an image of Jesus or one of the saints, or even kiss the image itself as a sign of reverence. Being Presbyterian, I have much to learn about icons and their spiritual depth.
For me, the spiritual practice of iconography implies that there is a connection both between art and faith, and between the visual and the spiritual. What images connect you to your faith? What images (on the other hand) are a struggle for you? I was just at the Art Institute of Chicago, and some of the images of Jesus’ crucifixion are so realistic. Do those kinds of images make you squirm? Do realistic features help you understand your faith deeper? What about that pervasive Warner E. Sallman portrait of the White blue-eyed Jesus? Or Marion Perkins’ Jesus sculpture from the Art Institute, “Man of Sorrows,” portrayed with African features? Does the intersection of race and faith tell you something about the dualities of particularity and universality of Jesus Christ? That each of us adapt and adopt the story of Jesus as if it happened in our own community, so powerful was his message? In what ways does the image-writing, the iconography of our faith, deepen your understanding of Jesus Christ and therefore the Lord our God?
God, there is an invisibleness to your presence among us
And we are so often people of sight.
Give us the gift of your story in visual form,
Recognizing your tender nearness in sacred art,
In the painted characters of your holy book.
Give us a visual shorthand for your presence,
And help us to see you anew.