There were two paths forward from the ashes and rubble of 9/11: One path led to war, torture, and fear, but another path -- led by people of faith across our land -- was marked by soul-searching, genuine mourning for the lost, and standing up for peace-building and caring for our neighbors.The letter encouraged all of us to affirm our commitment to peace building and reconciliation signing the commemoration pledge:
On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sojourners invites you to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters of all faiths, who are helping to build a nation that reflects our best values. We seek to live out the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and affirm that we can live peacefully with our neighbor even if we do not share the same religion, language, dress, or country of origin. This pledge will be shared at two commemorative events this week, hosted by national faith leaders: one in Washington, D.C., and one in New York City overlooking the World Trade Center site.As I read this statement and think about my own reaction to these tragic events these words of Australian poet Michael Leunig come to mind:
There are only two feelings. Love and fear. There are only two languages. love and fear. There are only two activities. Love and fear. There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results Love and fear, love and fear.The greatest challenge all of us face when terror and tragedy strike is to respond out of love and not of fear. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and do good to those that hate us. (Luke 6:27) But it is so hard to respond and keep responding in that way especially when everything around us seems to encourage fear rather than love. I well remember one local church here in Seattle that surrounded the local mosque with a cordon of love in solidarity with those who were being persecuted as a result of the attacks. In gratitude that mosque now hosts a yearly BBQ that attracts hundreds of visitors, helping to break down the barriers of misunderstanding that have grown rather than lessened in the last ten years So my challenge for all of us this morning is: What acts of love did the events of 9/11 initiate in you? How 10 years later are you still living out love for your Muslim neighbours in ways that encourages understanding and respect?
(1) They enhance the beauty of a church. (2) They instruct us in matters pertaining to the Christian faith. (3) They remind us of this faith. (4) They lift us up to the prototypes which they symbolize, to a higher level of thought and feeling. (5) They arouse us to imitate the virtues of the holy personages depicted on them. (6) They help to transform us, to sanctify us. (7) They serve as a means of worship and veneration. I shall discuss briefly each one of these functions Read more on the function of icons at the Orthodox information centreIn recent years icons have been rediscovered by growing numbers of followers of Jesus from other traditions too. For many, icons contribute to the beauty of worship and are like windows that connect us to the realities of the Kingdom of God, bringing these into our prayer on earth. I love the idea that entering into church is meant to give us a glimpse into the kingdom of God and the icons are reminders of that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before. They can be a refreshing focus for both personal and group meditation. Unfortunately, there is probably more dispute circulating about the use of icons than of any of the other tools I have mentioned. When Tom and I were in Lebanon some years ago, we were invited to lunch by an orthodox priest. What we did not realize until we arrived was that we were supposed to settle a long standing dispute between he and a friend as to whether or not the use of icons of Christ was acceptable. The friend thought they were satanic, graven images that were expressly denounced in the Old Testament. Our orthodox friend explained that early Christians felt that the Old Testament proscriptions against making images was overturned by their belief in the incarnation. They believed that because God took on flesh in the human form of Jesus it was permissible to create depictions of the human form of the Son of God. Although icons are images, they are not simply illustrations or decorations. They are symbols of the incarnation, a presence which offers to the eyes the spiritual message that the Word addresses to the ears. Why we worry so much about iconic images of Christ and not at all about images of Christ in other forms of art, I am not sure, but then of course, I am no expert. So I at least want to present this as one of the options that you might like to explore. For those that want to learn more, obviously, a Google search will provide lots of resources. However, one book you may like to start with is Windows to Heaven: Icons for Protestants and Catholics by Lela Gilbert and Elizabeth Zelensky. And to round off your education, I thought some of you may appreciate this video using icons in association with the litany of the saints song by Matt Maher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-labIH9tSg
In my Spiritual Formation classes over the last 2-3 years, in addition to more traditional Lection Divina I've also been using forms of Visio Divina. This isn't new, beginning with Benedict in the 6th century is floweried with the Orthodox iconographers.Tom's words sent me on a google search for more information on a form of prayer that I honestly know little about, even though I have often used religious art as a focus for meditation. I found this article by Tom Mooney particularly helpful and love the images from John August Swanson, an artist that I have not encountered before but whose images drew me into a wonderful rich and refreshing encounter with the gospel stories. Mooney explains:
Visio Divina (Latin for "divine seeing") is a method for praying with images or other media. While the Orthodox tradition has long practiced praying with images through icons, the western church, and Protestantism in particular, is less comfortable with this type of prayer. But as a cursory glance through scripture will show, images have been an important part of God's way of communicating. Ezekiel's vision of dry bones, and Peter's dream on the rooftop in Acts 10, are just two instances of how images and prayer are vitally connected. Read the entire articleI also discovered this excellent resource for Bible study: Seeing the Word: Picture the Beauty of God's Word, developed by Saint John's School of Theology Seminary and Liturgical Press. Seeing the Word offers guided reflections on particular Scripture texts, using images from the acclaimed The Saint John's Bible, This video is a useful tool that helps to explain the process of Visio Divina This Bible that reminds me of the Book of Kells and other illuminated gospels which are another wonderful tool for Visio Divina. One book I have read recently that delves into Vision Divina in a very helpful way is Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer by Juliet Benner. She very instructively combines the knowledge of a trained artist with that of a spiritual director to show people how to meditate on art that depicts passages of scripture. Another great tool for this form of prayer is the use of Christian images from different cultures. I first wrote about this some years ago in a blog post entitled Imaging Jesus and even produced a youtube video to go with it. One of my earliest so it is a little funky now, but I still thought that you might enjoy it. This is obviously a small beginning in exploring this form of prayer. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
I believe art is capable of far more than communicating a message: it is capable of conveying the voice of God and harboring an encounter with God.Suddenly, it hit me. There is a huge realm of prayer tools that I have alluded to in other posts but not fully explored in this series. Images of all forms be it art, candles, icons, crosses, photographs and videos are but a few of the art forms that speak powerfully of and to our relationship to God. As Mark says they can both convey the voice of God and harbor an encounter with God. We live in an image rich world. Images that flash through our minds on the internet, TV screen and neon billboards draw us into their values and shape our lives, telling us what to believe and how to live. Yet when it comes to the practice of prayer many of us askew images that can deepen our encounters and enrich our faith. Our prayer spaces are sterile corners that speak little of the wonder and glory of the God we claim to worship. We often engage in prayer as an intellectual exercise rather than a relationship building practice. But prayer is meant to open to us a mystery that cannot be reduced to thoughts and words. And to fully enter into that mystery we need images that speak to our hearts and open our minds to the wonder and glory of God. So over this next week I plan to explore what I have found to be some of the most effective types of images to use in prayer - icons, crosses, candles and photographs are some that I have found to be powerful tools. The list will probably grow as I work through the week. Even then, I am sure this will only scratch the surface of possibilities so if you would like to help all of us explore this area and want to contribute a post that expresses your own encounters with God through images please let me know.
"Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world."Music by David Ogden
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