For many months, our parish has been engaged in securing the services of an iconographer and working to develop a plan for the decoration of the church, and through research, prayer and visiting other parishes, we have come along a course of discovery about our faith, our church and each other. Unlike so many of the committees we’ve endured over the years, the nature of this project and the engagement folks have brought to it has created a bond and deepened our experience for the better. And among the many remarkable good things of this experience is a spirit we might pray would abide between us going forward.
At the start, each of us had our separate expectations, desires and preferences. But by proceeding slowly to lay a foundation for understanding the Church’s expectations first, and aligning our thoughts within her traditions and teachings, we accustomed ourselves to proceeding with care, consideration and patience. Pushing from one area to the next, we took few votes, and made fewer statements; and so spent quite some time just trying to figure where we were, what was settled, and what remained.
One of the wonders to emerge from this obscurity lay in how it lifted our likes and dislikes from our shoulders as we peered ever deeper, straining to see into the thickening the fog. Somehow we continued moving inexorably forward, crawling from one subject to another; discussing each next topic without fully ending the last, blending a consensus on the prior that guided discussion of the latter. And like navigation by dead-reckoning, we often revisited our “known” waypoints more than once.
So as objectively terrible as it might seem to run a committee in this fashion, and as much we did in fact lose a few along the way, building our knowledge, experience, and relationships to a point where our trust and confidence in each other and what we’re about so that we could rise to the occasion is a painstaking process with no real short-cuts. We’ve learned about icons, our theology and traditions, but more than that, we’ve seen how the Spirit can move and lead our people with love and care, and letting each find their way to focus more on the group and less on ourselves. As a result, we accomplished more together than we might have. And this bodes well for the promise that what has transpired so far in our small group may bear fruit more abundantly.
And we can run that in so many ways if you want to indulge in some navel gazing about “Orthodoxy” or about living our baptisms and all that, but let’s say simply that when we find ourselves in these committees or even just a street or cocktail party somewhere, sometimes we do well to remember our “armor of light” and rely on this to shield us as we consider our discussions, hear the ideas of others and even the heated words they may have chosen… and look past all of that. And if we can for a moment admire the way this person has trusted us with the care of their thoughts, done us the courtesy of expecting a judgment of their ideas rather than their person, then we perhaps we can admire their desire to move us towards some “better” collective understanding. And even if we think we see things differently for now, we might see them differently later.
Even the best processes can break down when it comes to making decisions; but in our case, that hasn’t happened so far. Yet I think this preparation means that were this to happen, we’d be as equally prepared to do nothing and call it “good” as find ourselves lucky enough to escape that trap and succeed. It’s often as good to know when to stop as when to continue; and admit maybe we were meant to pursue other low (or lower) hanging fruit. And that’s enough.
To our benefit and the Glory of God, we seem blessed to continue moving forward in our case, so it seemed worth a pause to consider what went right… as if that were possible. And maybe I’ve missed it and grabbed the wrong thing, but if I could harness it and replicate it elsewhere, I’d choose to harness the spirit with which we generally treated each other – not as self-congratulation – which it begins to sound like, but as a marvel of what God makes possible in those moments when our intentions are well-ordered – even along the unseen ways we’ve come. And if it’s gratitude for these ways – however briefly we may experience them – that we see amongst ourselves, then surely it’s the sort we see in each other at our liturgies as well. And it’s this more than all the rest that keeps me coming back… as a sideways glimpse towards a vision of the Kingdom.
Christ’s Beatitudes tell us the “pure heart” will see the Kingdom, and follow immediately with speaking of peacemakers… because we’ll need them… if we dare to utter much of this vision in words – lest our “purified” hearts be darkened, or we darken another’s. And so in saying more than should be said already, let me close considering the iconographer’s prayer… for the Creator has made us icons of His image, yet in the crafting of the lives we place before God, or what we see in that which God places before our eyes… we write these great works, these gifts to all so often without the prayers we need. Let us see and write their beauty as God intends, and become what He wills.“O Divine Lord of all that exists, You have illumined the Apostle and Evangelist Luke with Your Most Holy Spirit, thereby enabling him to represent the most Holy Mother, the one who held You in her arms and said: ‘the Grace of Him Who has been born of me is spread throughout the world.’ Enlighten and direct our souls, our hearts and our spirits. Guide the hands of your unworthy servant, so that we may worthily and perfectly portray your icon, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the saints, for the glory and adornment of Your Holy Church. Forgive our sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons, and who, standing devoutly before them, give homage those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel. This we ask through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos, the Apostle Luke, and all the saints, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”