Simply “Gazing” at anything for a while transports the mind to another realm of delight and arouses a deeper encounter with the unseen. Color, line, shape, and form are the aspects that first draw you into the power of icons. Gazing at these still images stimulates the imagination, and fleshes out an immature understanding of what you may not notice at first. Any one icon can reveal several layers of meaning and distort the limits of time and space. As one embarks on the practice of prayer and meditation with icons, it is useful to reflect on the history of this holy art form.
The Samaritan at the Well Icon
Icons have always been used for individual prayer and now quite often during retreats. Narrative icons are especially suited to opening doorways to the mystical and spiritual theology they represent. Over the past 3 decades the Anglican church has been particularly enamored with the power of icons.
This image of the Samaritan woman provokes us to ask. what would it be like to speak to the Lord on a hot afternoon when we are thirsty? Her conversation with Christ is documented as the longest he had with anyone in the bible. As she approaches the well, it is easy to question, Who is this woman? How was her life changed after conversing with Christ? Did she return to the city? Why did the iconographer not paint her with a Halo? The power of icons rests on our curiosity and need to know; but there are no concrete answers in prayer. There is intuition, epiphanies, logic and a great deal of speculation but it all leads to abundant life. Gazing at icons lets us answer for ourselves what is happening in the narrative.
Can you Recognize the power of icons in the Face of Jesus?
The face of Christ is another enduring icon, the most simplified of all icons. His face floats as an impression miraculously there in the drapes of a cloth. His face becomes an abstract portrait and reminder of the mysterious presence that is in everything, everywhere, all the time. Gazing at the face for a long while is sufficient to grasp the simple commonality shared by all humanity. We are flesh and spirit being seen by the creator. I am that same flesh and spirit indivisible in God. I cannot exist outside the energy that created Him and also me.
Praying with Icons; 9 Gateways to deeper Prayer
Icons are becoming fashionable as tools for individual prayer and retreats. They are especially suited to Ignatian forms of spirituality where the participant tries to enter into the event through contemplation. The images stimulate the imagination and open doorways to find yourself present in the narrative story. They do not reflect reality as we see it but push the mind into the abstract. Praying with icons distorts what we expect gives us the freedom to go beyond the limits of time and space.
To make the best use of icons, it is recommended to have a variety of images to choose from. As our mood changes with the focus in our lives so the images call to us. It is logical and suggested to pair certain icons with specific scriptural passages. Icons work best in conjunction with particular prayers or biblical passages. Images of John the Baptist, for example, can enhance our interior dialogue by imagining we are walking in solitude, alone. What would we say out loud when only the desert would hear us. Ignatian spiritual exercises are known as colloquies. They try to move the mind and heart into being present in a moment, an event, or a conversation.
A few things to consider as you commence praying with icons:
1. The choice of an icon should be based in part on the graces you desire. If one seeks relief from anxiety, for example, the story of Jesus Calming of the Storm or Peter Walking on the Water may be a good choice.
2. During prayer, one is likely to encounter moments of self-awareness, passion, zeal, or conflict. Pay attention to these emotions, and what you were praying for when you experienced them. It is not uncommon for the image to take on a new meaning.
3. The power of icons come as they reveal the movements of the heart and the Holy Spirit. You may want to seek out a spiritual guide for clarification and discernment of what has shifted.
4. Praying with icons can help enriches spiritual life. The images give a context to pray for family and friends, and even for an end to the maladies that plague our world.
5. Mother of Tenderness icons show Mary and the child Jesus locked in a warm embrace. It is by far the most popular image. You might try using various images of Mary, changing them one day at a time for a week. Ask your interior self, what is their relationship about.
6. The icon of Christ teaching in the temple at the age of twelve is special and provocative. Icons of Christ’s passion can provoke a group who is praying with icons as supplication for an end to war or relief from hunger and poverty. Let your choice of an image be relevant here. What can we reflect on when we see Mary and Jesus sitting atop a fountain of live-giving water.
7. Icons of God’s love can also be paired with images representing God’s natural creation. By doing so one can achieve a sense of solidarity with God’s world. Our attitude toward the earth itself can become a matter of imagining we live in a world redeemed.
8. The power of icons gives us a springboard to transform our view of ourselves and the natural world. We are living in a spirit-filled world, where brothers and sisters throughout the world are made whole by graces we cannot understand. Gazing at an icon as if you are in it, places you in touch with the beloved son’s healing and redemptive light.
9. In his treatise On Holy Images, St. John Damascene offers the important insight that God chose to become matter so that we can see, touch and be present with him through our material world. “When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh,” he wrote, “you may then draw a likeness of his form.” All Christians are indebted to the icon artists, both past and present, who have heeded this call.
Published books; In Light of Women, Life in Christ,Iconography Revealed, Meditation and iconography, Embossing Metal, and The Mary Collection. She teaches 5-day workshops, //sacrediconretreat