(Andrei Rublev icon of the three angels being hosted by Abraham, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, January 29, 2012)
Readings for the feast day of Andrei Rublev, Monk and Iconographer, January 29:
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
Genesis 28:10-17 (NRSV):
Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Just as Jacob saw a window into Heaven and a means to provide a means for a flow of traffic between the realm of God and the realm of humanity via "Jacob's Ladder," Andrei Rublev devoted his life to creating a ladder between those two realms via iconography. His process for writing icons is outlined in Holy Women, Holy Men, page 196:
For Andrei, writing an icon was a spiritual exercise. It involved the ritual of preparing the surface, applying the painted and precious metal background and then creating the image, first outlining it in red. Throughout he would repeatedly say the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me”). He was creating a window into the Divine which he knew was always before him but which was invisible to the human eye. He knew he was able to create such an image of God because he himself was made in the image of God. His object was to be totally focused on receiving God’s love and loving in return.
In 2010, I decided I needed an icon for my prayer corner in my house, so I turned to a modern iconographer, Luiz Coelho, to make that happen. What I had discovered by pondering many famous icons, including those of Rublev, was that sometimes the iconographer hooked the viewer to the icon via renditions of cities or places at the time the icon would have been written--creating a ladder between antiquity and the present. I was stunned that Luiz was able to do this by means of my Facebook photos, linking Mary as Theotokos, and the image of the young Christ as teacher, with iconic renditions of vast pasture, my church, and my red pickup truck drawing nearer to Mary and Christ on a ribbon of U.S. Highway 63.
What I've come to realize via using this icon as a window into the Divine, is that icons demand of us the same painstaking process Rublev used to create his icons. First, we are asked to strip ourselves to our barest wood and to imagine ourselves in divine terms--to imagine God's view of us as part of God's good creation, and to allow God the Iconographer create that image in the setting of a discipline of regular prayer. The hardest part, however, is to allow that image to be viewed by others, and to trust that they will see what they need to see when they view us. When we are icons of the Body of Christ, we aren't allowed the luxury of projecting what we wish others to see--it requires being comfortable enough to trust that the scratches and misplaced brush strokes are part and parcel of this divine icon. We don't get to force the image we wish, upon the hearts and minds of others. Instead, we are invited to trust that the image is a sufficient window, and allow others to make their own choices about that window.
What is God telling you, when you feel brave enough to pray through the holy icon of you, as God sees you in Divine Creation?