“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to the icon.
“It says who it is across the top.” said Frank, pointing to the Greek letters. He spelt out the name. I knew part of what he said meant ‘John’. It sounded like yo-annis.
“John the Baptist?”
“No, John the Theologian; the one who wrote Revelation.”
“Ohh.” I nodded. “But why does he have such a big head? He looks like an alien.”
Frank raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “There’s no mystery with you, is there?” His eyes crinkled. He smiled one of his rare smiles, one that is just for me. I thought how much I love this man.
He picked up the icon. “Oh, look. It has writing on the back. Let me see…”
He began reading the Greek and translating, “I think that means ‘Byzantine’…”
“I bet I know what it says,” I said and took it calmly into my hands, “This… icon is… a replica of…”
“How are you reading that?” Frank said, puzzled.
“Er… It’s got the English translation directly underneath…”
Frank chuckled as he said, “I honestly didn’t see that!” And he gave me the same look the girls gave me when I solved their wooden puzzle in a couple of minutes the other day. As if I needed to let them in on the secret. Only there wasn’t a secret; I just figured it out.
I think the bible can be a bit like that. We expect things to be somehow holy and mystical and somewhat obscure, but when you take it for what it is, and you don’t take random bits and bobs all out of context, there are a lot of things that are very clear, and very direct (and that all hang together, with a common theme), yet are still often ignored, even by those who claim to take the bible literally. I almost want to say ‘those who take the bible literally literally’ because there are some of us who, although we take the bible at face value, don’t take it absolutely literally and don’t believe it takes itself absolutely literally. There are those of us who think that to try to take the scriptures literally literally is to do the bible, and our Creator, a grave disservice.
So what I’m getting at is this: if Jesus says it, maybe we should do it, don’t you think? You know, all the ‘love one another’ and ‘forgive’ and ‘don’t hate because that’s as bad as murder – even if you don’t think it is, I (Jesus) say it is – because hatred in your heart kills you‘. And other stuff like that. Let’s cut the cr@p and get down to business. Jesus says His ‘yoke is easy’ (Matt 11:30). So why do we make it so difficult? In the words of – um – someone: take a chill pill, Bill. And don’t cry over spilt milk.
Also, these icons really do show saints with enormous heads (this is not the exact same icon*, but is very similar).
*NB Icons are not intended to be objects of worship so much as expressions of prayer, and if words can be prayer, why not art? I love art history, it’s like the world expressing the essence of humanity generation after generation. I love architectural and engineering history for the same reason. Christian imagery can be incredibly beautiful and it is arrogant to think that because some of us, e.g. Baptists, choose not to have it in our churches it is somehow worthless (or worse). The desecration of the Reformation did nothing to change hearts and minds. I think that the Roman Catholic desire for imagery and the Protestant desire for lack of imagery arose from the same motives – a yearning for purity, for beauty, for purpose, for prayer and, most of all, for communion with the Divine: a genuine and honest expression of God. Here endeth today’s sermon(!). 😮