by Laurie Gudim
Feast Day of St. Columba
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
“Do you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16
The last thing I do with a new icon before I declare that it is finished is to sit with it in prayer. As I gaze at the image that has been written in partnership with God it really finally becomes more than paint on wood. It is a window, a temple.
This is not to say that it is perfect – far from it. The icon was imagined by me, and the paint was applied by my hand. It is a product of an artist whose heart is open to God – but who is also very locked into her own ego judgments and understandings.
It is a temple because it is a place people will come when they are searching for God. They come into the icon with openness, with expectation. And so God will use it. God uses whatever God can, putting it to work to show bits of God to those God loves. “Hold still,” God will say in the heart of the one who gazes at the icon, “and focus just here. Do you see me gazing back at you? Do you see the paint transformed for just a moment?” And the viewer will see in the faces of saints and angels that boundless mystery that is the Creator.
We ourselves are icons – temples pointing toward God. Quirky and mixed up as we are, we still belong to the body of Christ, and God will use us whenever God can. God shows bits of God’s self to those God loves and desires to be in relationship with, through us. That’s why every sermon ever preached becomes something different than the preacher intended as soon as it leaves his or her lips. And every loving act carries more than the weight of what the giver intended. And just as every Eucharist is an opportunity for God to pour forth God’s love into the hearts of those present, so every church coffee hour, every office picnic, and every saunter down a busy city street is the same sort of opportunity for God.
We can help by getting our egos out of the way. That doesn’t mean we must be falsely humble. Here the saints give us good examples. St. Columba, whose feast day is today, was a robust, dynamic man who walked all over Scotland energetically being himself – his truest self. He knew that the Holy Spirit dwelt in him, and so he got out of its way whenever he could and let it speak to those he encountered. He used all his unique talents to point people toward God. In this way he was God’s temple.
As I apply paint to a gessoed board I cannot help but be a little in awe of the creation that slowly but surely comes to be through my agency. It is foolish for me to take credit for it, since I cannot change either the talent or the ways God uses it and me. It would be equally foolish to belittle my longing, my love of icon writing, since God uses that as a tool through which to speak to those God loves. My work instead is to get my ego self out of the way, to be open and responsive to God’s spirit that resides in me and that moves into the icon through me.
The same is true in all areas of my life. The spirit of God resides in me, and at any moment it can use me like any good temple is used. I am a place where people come looking for the Holy One. How amazing is that? And, even more astounding, God sometimes reveals God’s self through me.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: from the Iona Abbey church (postcard own photo – Ann Fontaine)