Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Icons Will Save the World

I went through vast periods of my life where icon was a dirty word, a synonym for idol. I'm not sure where I picked this up, who taught it to me, or where I read it. It wasn't my parents certainly. But the belief was pervasive, gleaned from a thousand sources.

In the eighth century a period of great destruction of icons took place. It was the movement of the iconoclasts to remove all images from churches and homes - and if Louisville Sluggers and Zippos were needed to do so, well, so be it.

After worshiping with Eastern rite Catholics in Virginia Beach and being stunned by the sheer beauty of color and wood and saints and angels, I spoke with a fellow visitor (though a more regular visitor) who was a convert to Orthodoxy. His family, however, was Baptist - Baptist ministers, missionaries, professors. A very strong Baptist heritage (though this is not to rail against Baptists). They didn't warm to his conversion. One time his brother came into his apartment and, upon seeing an icon of Christ on the wall, he denounced it as Satanic.

Millions of babies are killed each year on the altar of self. Sick, unhappy people (we suppose) have food and drink taken from them in the name of mercy. Prisoners are tortured and humiliated in order to rip away their humanity in the name of the fatherland. In quiet rage we yell at our children and steal away their joy and burden their souls, we make dismissive and hateful comments to our spouses or about our families or about beggars on the street. In our anger we murder. We smash and burn and tear to pieces the imago Dei over and over with one atrocity after another.

Our Lord was truly human and truly divine. The Scriptures speak of our response to him with the following words:

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.

- Wisdom 2

And so we beat and mocked and crucified him. We destroyed the true and perfect icon of the Father, the Word made flesh.

The incarnation of God is argued for and defended by icons, for he himself was Icon. And we are little icons, bearers of God's image, Christ bearers as well. And iconography, those pictures that we kiss and pray before, are paintings of loved ones whose physical presence is hidden from us. We venerate not the bits of wood and color, but the ones whom the wood and paint present to us. These boards become for us windows into heaven - just as the elderly widower kisses the photograph of his wife that sits by his bedside, and whispers to her sweet words of his unending love and devotion. These are icons. And my words fail to adequately or properly honor them.

And so in the eighth century, at the Second Council of Nicea, iconoclasm - the destruction and suppression of icons - is declared a heresy by the Church. For iconoclasm is the rejection of the incarnation itself.

And now, so late in life, I've fallen in love with iconography, with the communion of saints, with wholeness (albeit a rudimentary vision) and what it means to be fully alive.

Pray for me.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Product of an Occasional Sleeplessness

It's been a while. I wanted to jot down a few things I've been meaning to jot down, but haven't had the time or disposition to do so. Tonight, after a nap on the couch and an inability to go back to sleep after 2:00 a.m. thinking about writing, I decided to come up here and get back into it.

Here's an update on our parish priest, Fr Al. I had mentioned a few months back that he had been removed from our parish by our diocese because of some charges brought against him about something that happened 50 years ago. I am pleased to report that he has been with us since the first of the year, having had his name cleared. It's something that doesn't make much of a splash in the news: "Priest's good name restored," but it means a great deal to us at OLR at the very least.

I've been following the political scene with some interest. And let me be honest with you: I like Obama. Now, because of his stand on abortion, I won't vote for the man unless he runs against Guiliani. A very pro-abortion voting record, from what I understand. But this man does fill one with a sense of vision and hope - a quite moving rhetorician from what I've experienced. That is, of course, to say very little perhaps, as I've heard Hitler was persuasive as well. Not to compare the two men, but only to show you that I realize that a moving speaker does not necessarily a good leader make.

Furthermore, I do not like, as he said so eloquently after winning handedly in SC, his description of some who use religion as a wedge, by which, I understood him speaking about abortion. Excuse me, Senator Obama, but did MLK use religion as a wedge? Different issue entirely, I understand. MLK was seeking unity. But abortion is an issue, though apparently tiresome for some, that is a non-negotiable. It is, if you'll forgive my metaphor, like the Catholic Church's view on ecumenism with Protestant communities - the only road to full communion with one another involves their crossing the Tiber. Abortion is the same way: The only way toward agreement on this issue is to begin to work toward the dissolution of its support. To look toward its end.

Other than that, and contrary to many in conservative circles, I do like Sen Obama. Perhaps much of my interest in Obama is that I find no one notable in the Republican race. Forgive my harshness.

Last weekend we visited Laura's parents in Virginia Beach. While there we attended a Byzantine Catholic parish, which I've been wanting to do for some time. It was a fascinating and wonderful time. I'd like to write more about it later, but the liturgy, though very different than the Latin rite, was quite beautiful, though completely foreign - chanting, iconostasis, incense (which I've only had the pleasure of experiencing at only one Mass - Midnight Mass in Eaton Rapids, MI - since returning to the Catholic Church). The hospitality we discovered there, however, was nonpareil. Not in the vigorous hand-shaking and plastic smiles ubiquitous in some communities, but in something genuine that simply was - it emanated from them - something difficult to put a finger on, but certainly easily loved. We will be sure to return to this parish whenever we visit Virginia Beach.

Furthermore, the icons - I love the iconography. I wish more Latin-rite churches included them in their parishes, they are our heritage as well. Case in point, in the foyer of the parish was a large icon of Christ crucified. My oldest daughter, Sophie, said to the reader who welcomed us so warmly, that it appeared that Christ had a cut upon his side - something she had never noticed before apparently. The reader, full attention given to my daughter, explained the icon - told the story. And this is one of the many things I so appreciate about iconography. (The same is true, of course, with elements of Latin rite parishes.) Iconography allows pre- and emerging readers to discover and hear the Word proclaimed. It allows them to read the Word without reading. Icons, as it is said, do with color what the Scriptures do with words.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Anna Is Seven

Today is Anna's birthday and she got the day off from school due to some freezing rain. I was planning on still homeschooling, but since the kids get so few days off on account of snow and ice - and because their sister is off - we're all taking a break today.

I can't believe how quickly children grow up. It makes me wish I had some backwater farm so's I could put these younguns to work.

Yesterday, Anna, Will, and I went to Barnes & Noble and Anna picked out a couple of horse activity books/toys/games for her birthday while I picked up a nice children's dictionary for home.

Meanwhile, I have coffee breath and have some kids hollerin'. Gotta run.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Yes, I'm going there, for posterity's sake (posteriority's sake?) - you've been warned.

So I was doing some, well, intensive thinking in my favorite room for meditation - my closet (in all fairness, my water closet). Baby Jack was pulling up on the tub and chattering excitedly. Then in waltzes the yellow-haired child, who, lest you raise eyebrows, is not supposed to be in the Prayer Closet at the same time that Daddy is, you know, meditating. She looks at the baby and then looks at me and asks, with potential disdain about her eyes, "Does Baby Jack like the smell of your poop?"

I said, "I suppose he doesn't mind it."

She said, "I wish I was [sic] Baby Jack," and then walked out of the room.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Am Legend

Got out today. Deposited check. Picked up The Pillars of the Earth from library. (Stayed as briefly as possible with four children, two of whom think every building is a McDonald's PlayLand. Yay! me. Almost let eldest child get Ezra Jack Keats book, even though it was a translation (Un Día de Nieva). Hey! It's where I was. Then offered librarian my debit card rather than my library card.) Came home.

Extricated plastic bling from Jack Henry's mouth tonight and put it on end table. Three minutes later, I noticed that the boy-child had climbed to his feet at the end table and shoved the plastic bling back into his mouth. Swept mouth with finger, avoiding teeth. (I've feared this day [homo sapiens-erectus] for a very long time.)

Must sleep now. Rest is a weapon. Coffee insufficient.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


People are beautiful. Fat, thin, short, tall, big-nosed or lop-eared, blue- or gray-haired - whatever. Kind and charitable mouths are the most beautiful. Mouths that smile. Hands offering cups of cold water, no matter how calloused or wrinkled or however poorly manicured, are beautiful hands. Kindness beautifies the person - drawing him or her nearer into Beauty.

That doesn't mean that there are not truly attractive people in our world, people who make jaws drop, who cause traffic accidents. They are certainly there. But they have their own troubles. And deserve to be seen as beautiful for what they say and do as much as someone like me. Most of the time, they are never given the chance. People give me the chance every day. And what a shame that I don't always take them up on it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Deep Water

There's this documentary that has been bouncing around in my brain for the past two days. I haven't sent it back yet and I will try to watch it again this evening. It's the story of a man named Crowhurst and the 1968 round-the-world yacht race. And it's a tragedy, in the literary sense, except that we have antihero for hero. It's a sobering, somewhat terrifying, look at a man trapped between death and ruin.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Who Can Be Saved?

The most recent issue of First Things came in the mail on Saturday and I tore it out of its plastic today for some good bathroom and Disney-channel reading. One of the articles in this issue, "Who Can Be Saved?" by Avery Cardinal Dulles was, well, not completely printed in the issue (Oh, sweet printer's errors of which we are all susceptible.) Because of the printing error, they've posted the article online. It's an interesting article, and an interesting look at how the Catholic Church has historically viewed salvation - and how that view has developed - for those, specifically, who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel.

It's Back to School

Today we've started back. I still don't feel well (neither does Avery), but Hey! better than napping all day. Right?

As always, I covet your prayers for our efforts here. And for those of you who also homeschool, know that I am praying for you.

Friday, January 04, 2008

This Post Is No Foreshadow of Things to Come This Year on My Blog


Now the following frustrations/questions are directed more at my friends and family who are Evangelical - though if you are Catholic or Orthodox you may feel free to contribute. (And it obviously - as so many of my readers here exemplify - does not apply to all who claim the name Protestant Evangelical.) That being said, I would love to hear your insight into the following dilemma: How is it that in an otherwise amicable conversation about Christian things, when conversation turns to some Catholic belief that is in disagreement with what some of the conversationalists believe, they immediately ask, "So what you're saying is that I'm not saved?"

Huh? Has anyone else run across this phenomenon? Have you felt this way in a conversation with a Catholic or Orthodox Christian?

It's seeming out-of-the-blueness shocks me every time. And, for me, has nothing to do with the topic at hand. It is almost as if because I believe that they are wrong about believing this or that that I also, necessarily, believe they are "in a handbasket" and on their way, so to speak. It's as if every disagreement is grounds for condemnation.

Let me give you some context so you're not saying Huh? about my question. I was in a conversation with my brother and sister-in-law about heaven over Christmas and unity came up and I was sharing my heart with them and made an assumption too large - that they, as devout Evangelicals, understood that Catholics and Evangelicals could not share in receiving holy Eucharist. (It breaks my heart that we cannot.) As soon as I said it, they looked at me as if I had grown a third eye. And immediately the question was asked: Since I can't/won't share in Holy Communion with them, or let them partake with me, I necessarily believe that they are going to That Place Reserved for the Devil and His Angels.

Now, I understand where they are coming from, after hearing them out to whatever degree they let me. But this has happened more than once, and it is frustrating to be engaged in a conversation when, at each disagreement, they think I'm inferring that they are not saved.

Listen, dear reader, if I think you are in danger of hell because of your belief or unbelief, I will tell you so.

One more, less lengthy and less frustrating issue: My niece has begun dating a Catholic boy (Woo-hoo!). My sister, whom I love dearly, continues to refer to him as a Christian Catholic. The assumption implicit in such a label irritates me, though not greatly. Should I start referring to believing Baptists as Christian Southern Baptists, or Christian Christian Reformed, or Christian Grace Brethren, or, well ... you understand my frustration.

So if one feels the need to qualify "Catholic," make Christian the noun and Catholic the adjective (a Catholic Christian). Not vice versa.

I only ask these things so that what hair I have left that is not gray will stay the youthful black that it has always been. If you have suggestions for me, as a Catholic, as to what would be good manners for me in addressing Evangelicals (other than saying nothing, which is perhaps the best advice at this point in my journey), please let me know.