Have you ever had times in your life at which you were comfortable with what you knew about life or faith; and then have that comfort shaken by ideas that were so striking, so compelling as to carry you to depths of faith that you never knew were possible? In moments such as these our perception of the universe expands. We realize that we are living in a much larger world. We also realize that the possibilities of experiencing the presence of the risen Christ are much broader than we ever thought possible.
I’ve shared in the past weeks my thoughts and experiences of learning to be with God in silence. These learnings and experiences have borne very sweet and plentiful fruit in my life and ministry. One of the most meaningful parts of that learning is that spiritual formation is not a narrow path made up of a singular thread that must be meticulously followed in order to be meaningful. I’ve learned that spiritual formation is a broad path with a smorgasbord of experiences that will be meaningful to us regardless of our personality type, life experience and personal preference.
One of the new experiences of spiritual formation that has been opened to me is the use of icons. For centuries, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has used icons as a source of spiritual practice and devotion. I know very little about the tradition (still something I need to learn), but what I do know is that the use of icons exposes one to images that draw us deeper into understanding the nature of our relationship with Jesus. There is one particular icon to which I’ve been drawn. This image is a representation of the nature of the relationship I seek to have with Jesus. The image is the Theotokos of Vladimir.
The Theotokos of Vladimir is also known as the Virgin of Vladimir. It is an important image in the Russian Orthodox Church and the icon itself is on display at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. At face value it seems like simply one more representation of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child. However as you look closer there emerges an image that has captured my spirit. First, if you look at the Virgin’s left hand, she is not holding the child; she seems to be pointing toward him, as if to offer him. In my life and ministry that is what I seek to do…offer Christ. Second, the position of their faces is striking. There is a powerful closeness. In fact, the Virgin is so close to the Christ child that she would breathe His every breath. She is so close that she is breathing in the very Spirit of Christ.
This is the image that motivates me. In my life, in my devotion and in my ministry I want that kind of closeness…that kind of intimacy. I want to be close enough to Christ to breathe His Spirit. As I worship, as I engage in my devotional practices, as I preach, as I teach, as I live and as I breathe; this is my hope. This is my deepest longing.