1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We live in an iconic age, from our computer use to our expression of devotion to God.
One word that people have heard over and over in the last 20 years through the use of computer software, the visual GUI mouse click based navigation of various computer operating systems, is the term “icon”. When you first learned to navigate the Mac Os, or the Microsoft Windows Os, you had software packages that appeared on the desktop, or in an app folder, referred to as “icons”. When you learned to navigate various web applications, which enabled you to travel the world through the Internet, that web browser, had “icons” that you clicked on to accomplish certain desired tasks. When you visited a web page, the web page itself had both “icons” and “links” that you clicked on, to go to a particular chosen destination for further information or a task that you wanted to perform.
According to Wikipedia.org the article on “icons” states:
“In computing, an icon is a pictogram displayed on a computer screen in order to help the user navigate a computer system or mobile device. The icon itself is a quickly comprehensible symbol of a software tool, function, or a data file, accessible on the system and is more like a traffic sign than a detailed illustration of the actual entity it represents.” 1
Most of us who use a computer to write emails or blog posts, do social media updates, or to navigate the web, we all know and use “icons” and as such it is a common concept to our own post-modern thinking and the current economy and marketplace. We are “familiar” with the term.
The origins of icons.
But the term did not originate with the GUI (Graphical User Interface). The first use of the word in the English language was in 1572 2 . The origin of the word is from the Greek eikōn, from eikenai meaning “to resemble” from where it entered the Latin language 3. From the Greek and Latin, it entered the language of the Ancient Church, both the Orthodox and the Roman expressions of the Church. As such it is defined as “a representation of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, especially one painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church”4.
The history of Christian icons reveal an unpopular beginning.
The use of icons in the Church only began in the fourth century. The Early Church writings all pointed to a negative view and stance concerning image and the veneration of imaged, and the main criticism was that it was a reflection of the pagan culture being incorporated into the life of the Christian Church. It is said that when Constantine gave new status to the Church and made Christianity a new approved official religion of Rome, that the veneration of images continued, as in the veneration of the emperor, in order to calm the storm and sea of change that Constantine initiated. The resulting evolution of “Christian iconography” and the “veneration of the saints” was only a matter of time as the pagan practice of veneration would be accommodated and “Christianized” in order to ease the transition from the paganism of the Roman Empire to the newly accepted Christian faith of the Empire. For a good summary of this early history of Christian icons, check this link 5. It is noted that for the last 1600 years, “icons” have been a part of the Eastern Church and the Roman Church. I have seen the beauty of these “icons” up close on my trips to Latvia, Ukraine and Russia. The icons of the Eastern Church are beautifully crafted pieces of art, and devotion, and some of the most treasured artifacts in the world. I have some icons from Eastern Europe in my home from my trip there in 2012.
Icons in Christian devotion are resemblances and reflections of the divine.
Icons have been used in Christian devotion and worship for at least 16 centuries. A long time by any stretch of the imagination. Icons are used to assist believers in the devotion and prayers to God, through petitioning God through the saints who have gone before us, the “communion of the saints” that are in glory now with Christ. Icons, the representations of Christ, the Holy Family, and countless saints, are not to be worshipped in and of themselves, but are aides for the believer as the believer worships and petitions God. I have gazed upon icons in times of prayer, and found myself focused on God, not the image, but on God Himself as I lay bare my own heart before Him in adoration and worship. When I make my supplications, I give them directly to God. The icon for me is simply a representation of the divine, and something that helps me focus on the beauty and glory of God.
When I say that we ought to live the “iconic life” I mean that our focus should be on the divine in every situation, in every face, in every encounter.
When I look at the world and the people that are the inhabitants of this world, I marvel at the grace of God in sustaining this planet and all of us that dwell upon it. It is nothing short of a miracle that the planet is not obliterated or implodes by all that is done every day all over the world, especially the abuse of the earth and the environment, and the abuse, murder and destruction of humanity, by other humans who want their own way for their own reasons. If we could only look upon the faces of humanity around us as God looks upon them, we would look with eyes of love and respect and we would act accordingly. This is what it is to live an “iconic life”, seeing in others the image, the reflection, the resemblance of the divine that is in every human soul.
To live a life that matters, that is Spirit led, I need to see God in all things, in all people, in all situations. I find news can totally derail me when I am living my life day by day. News, small talk, and even sports stories between friends and coworkers can become flash points where the ego can catapult forward and change the mood and release all kinds of angst and tension in ordinary conversation. I don’t like to be conflicted and I want to live my life peacefully, being mindful of other people, and being mindful that as I remain centered in who I am, and rooted in what matters to me in my core of my being, I end up wanting to bless and not argue with people. I stop looking to be right, or trying to interrupt the flow of discourse just to give my opinion. I slow it down enough to digest what is going on and discern what is being said, and if it is a good thing, I keep listening and blessing and look to add to the positive that is taking place. I am learning the importance to disengage, and turn off even the inner voices that want my ego to have center stage. My life matters, and how I live it, it affects others, and affects my own health and wellbeing.
Living my life, is a life of worship and devotion to God. Worship as in living in the moment, living in and breathing in and releasing love – and the fruit of the Spirit
When living in the Spirit, one must constantly deal with the ego. The ego seeks center stage, even when it comes to serving others. There is this thing called “pride” and another thing called “personal gratification” that can command attention and derail our focus of remaining in the moment, embracing life fully, and living it fully as an act of worship to God. When you live in the moment, you don’t live in the gratification of the ego. You focus on the moment, the good, the bad, the indifferent aspects of the moment, and you seek to be fully alive in that moment, even if it entails pain and suffering. To be fully alive, and fully embracing the moment means we don’t deny the pain or the suffering, but seek the full manifestation of our true selves, who we are in God, and our full humanity, in all our brokenness in that moment. That is what it is to live and breathe and express the fullness of life. It is in this fullness of life, that the fullness of the manifestation of the Spirit comes and expresses itself in love, grace, forbearance, peace, joy, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the fruit of mindfulness and conscious awareness of living in the moment fully to the “glory of God” and to “the service of humanity”.
Seeing is believing – viewing people through the image of God – iconic vision.
They say the proof is in the pudding. They also say that seeing is believing. This is not coming from a place of doubt in being self-aware of your life moment by moment. Rather it is being centered and anchored in who you are as God has made you, and seeing God in the other person in front of you. To be fully alive and fully human means we need to embrace the humanity that is before us, and throughout our communities. There is an egocentric bent to want to segregate, to separate, to divide, to set apart those others, those situations, which are unfamiliar to us, that make us feel uncomfortable because of a lack of identity and affinity with them. That is why traveling to other lands and visiting other cultures is so significant and important in developing a “world consciousness”, an awareness of the humanity that is varied, diverse, and radically different than our own. One comes to realize and see the divine imprint on other people. One begins to see the other as a reflection and projection of the same Creator God, a kaleidoscope reflection of the beauty of the creative mind of God. We begin to realize as we engage with others that they are not so different than ourselves. They love life. They love their families and their children. They love their career and have big dreams and visions for the future, and they care about the community as much as you do. They may look different, talk different, and even have a different point of view, but all in all, they are just another reflection of yourself, and of the beauty that is our common humanity. When we look upon the various beauties of humanity and we view them all as an “image of God”, with a “divine imprint” upon them, and we see God at work through them, then we are beginning to live the iconic vision of the “iconic driven life”. Iconic vision is Spirit breathed and led, and moves us away from carnal earthly egocentric vision.
To behold the vision of God is to see His Kingdom manifest in us and through us.
There are many Christians who want to know and encounter God much as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6, to see the “Lord of Glory” enthroned and His train fill the Temple. But to truly behold the vision of God, is to fully embrace our own frail and broken humanity, and to see God in the other person, and for me as a Christian, it is to see Christ in the other person, and out of sincerity of heart, love and extend grace to them, as I would if Christ were in front of me. The very definition of the name “Christian” implied directly that we who wear that name are “little Christs” to others, and that our lives will have the markers the identifiers that reveal the beauty and heart of Christ. The heart of Christ is not found in dogmatic theology, or is separateness from others, but rather it is found in our common identity as human beings, and the common identifier we have with the incarnated Son of God, who become human like us, and identified with us. We in turn identify with Him and with each other, as this is the vision of God to see the handiwork and the beauty of God in the other, in humanity and in creation all around us. When we see the world as God sees the world, which is when His Kingdom manifests in us and through us. There have been many occasions where I dare say, I have had God reach out and love on me and bless me through someone who was not a Christian, but they had the markings of God in them. They moved in love and grace and compassion. This was a means for God to reveal to me over many times that He is at work in the world reconciling the world to Himself, even in ways that I cannot fully comprehend. The beauty of the Lord’s Prayer is that it calls us to pray in unity for “heaven” to manifest on the earth as it is in Heaven. Heaven on earth is the reality, which can truly be our own reality, if we can live out the iconic vision and see God everywhere in our midst, in all of creation and in all of humanity.
All we need is awakening.
Ephesians chapter five calls us all to awaken. Paul says is plainly:
14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Those of us who have a continual dual thinking mind, have ongoing triggers that provoke our ego to act out. We often dumb everything down in order to not embrace our current situations, and try to avoid suffering and pain, and conflict. Most of us have difficulty embrace that dance, that “tension” in relationships and in engagements with people. We tense up in situations that are not comfortable rather than embracing that moment fully in our humanity. We seem to go through the motions, with our spiritual senses dulled down, as if we are walking in a day dream, mistaking the daydream as reality when it is not at all. Jesus himself addressed what defiles a man. Jesus address the issues of the inner heart and those things that come out of us when we are in the midst of making decisions and acting on those decisions. When our ego manifests, it truly reveals that which comes out of us is that which is contrary to our true nature. The ego seeks to dominate and control, and derail us from our true spiritual selves. In Matthew 15 he said:
11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
The nature of the true self is revealed in Jesus’ encounter with Simon Peter. Jesus in this dialogue asks a question, and Peter answers. See the dialogue in Matthew 16:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. [NIV]
Then Jesus speaks of his impending crucifixion and death, and Peter reacts against it. The dialogue between the two reveal a stark difference from the previous dialogue above.
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” [NIV]
The dualistic thinking, the very ego of Peter, jumps into the fray and rebukes Jesus. Moments before Jesus had commended that it was God that revealed to Peter that he was the Messiah. Peter in that moment had been led by his true spiritual self, by the Holy Spirit, Peter declared the messiahship of Jesus. Then just moments later, when Peter just cannot handle that moment, cannot remain in that holy moment, and his ego erupts to declare that he would not allow Jesus to go to Jerusalem and die. It is here that his true self was hijacked by his ego and that dualistic thinking, that either or kind of thinking, that narrow thinking of self-interest, kicked in and just could not and would not accept what Jesus was saying. Peter was “awakened” by the Spirit when he declared Jesus to be the Messiah, and he rapidly went right back to “sleep” when he rebuked Jesus and rejected the thought of Jesus going to his death in Jerusalem. Sometimes is it a quick flip from being spiritually awake and just being totally “asleep in the light”.
Paul, the prolific writer of many of the New Testament epistles, wrote in Romans about coming out of our sleep, referring to how we live our lives. He says in Romans 13:
11 “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” (ESV)
It is reminiscent of the scene in the Matrix between Neo and Morpheus, where they speak of the Blue Pill and the Red Pill. Morpheus says:
“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth.”
The question for all of us, is, will we choose to be awakened? Will we continue to live dualistic thinking? Will we continue to operate at the ego level by default rather than through the Spirit? Will we learn to embrace all the moments of each and every day and live in the Spirit, in that moment, fully embracing our humanity, and fully embracing the divine? These are the questions that those who are awakening must delve into, ponder, and answer.
~ Sam Buick