by Laurie Gudim
To accompany me in my Advent journey I have propped up on my desk a little copy of an icon of John the Baptist, written in the 1800s, that a friend gave me. It’s a gentler image than some. The locks of John’s hair twist away from his head like a pile of snakes, but his eyes are surprisingly gentle, inquiring mildly yet firmly if I have yet repented. At some moments his mouth is at rest, and at others it looks as if he is just getting ready to speak. What would he say, I wonder? Would he accuse me? “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee?”
John is a prophet, and “more than a prophet.” Forerunner of the Christ event, he calls Israel back to itself, back to its basic spiritual practices, which are to provide mercy and succor to all who are in need. When he shouts, “Repent!”, he is admonishing us to turn away from the ways of the world, and to turn instead to the practice of love – love of God and love of our neighbor.
Mind you, this is only the first step, the preparation, the making of a smooth pathway. First we open ourselves to our Creator. Then something brand new comes pouring in.
In my icon John’s penetrating look seems to say, “Turn around. Turn completely around. Focus on what is most important. Practice this in your everyday life. Take care of people who have fallen into poverty, people who are sick or injured, refugees, widows and orphans. Take care of those who are foreign to you; for your people, too, were once foreigners.”
This is what I can do. Into the midst of it, I hope, will come the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural Christ, the radical changer of consciousness that transforms the world. Into the world, into our churches. Our ancient, newborn souls will wake from slumber – snap awake! Then we will look around in wonder. We will recognize the reign of God.
But for now we have the Forerunner. He admonishes us to a practice that will make the Messiah’s path smooth. Take care of the basics. Be a true neighbor. Take care of widows and orphans. Take in the stranger. Help where you can. Repent. Turn around.
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: Laurie Gudim