Finding our new, old road to God | Bellevue First Congregational Church, Bellevue, WA
Last Saturday, I attended the last day of the icon painting workshop I wrote about in my last post. I have good news to report – I finished painting the icon and I am amazed it came from my hand! And, all the other participants completed their icons too! As the final event, the workshop host invited everyone to the sponsoring church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, on Sunday for a blessing of the icons.
As I left the workshop on Saturday, I was unsure about attending church the following day for the blessing. Attending strange churches usually makes me sweat and become socially awkward. Especially when it involves high-church communions. Even more so when high-church communion means ascending the chancel and kneeling at a rail, as seems to be the custom in the few Anglican churches I have visited. And usually the bulletin says something limiting like “All baptized Christians are welcome at communion.” But as I thought about it, I decided that attending the blessing was part of participating fully in the tradition. If I have learned anything from my Marcus Borg readings and fixed hour prayer readings earlier this year, participating in these traditions with some sense of their historical continuity is actually part of the practice. It links those of us now participating in that practice to the many people in the past who also actively followed the practice.
When I arrived and found a seat in the pews and unwrapped my icon so I could carry it up to the front at the appropriate time, people turned their heads. I have to say that a bright red icon of Mary Magdalene is one of the best possible icebreakers you could bring into a sanctuary to start a conversation on your first visit to a church. People were fascinated and eager to chat about it. It sure made it easy to visit a new church!
The blessing of the icons occurred about halfway through the service – about 10 of us aspiring iconographers climbed onto the chancel, stood in a line, and turned our icons toward the congregation. The priest read the blessing and anointed the reverse side of the icon with oil, another ancient tradition, adding a fragrant aspect to them. And, communion was open to all, even though I couldn’t bring myself to go up and kneel at the railing to drink from a shared cup. I’ll have to save that for some other day! After the service, we went to the fellowship hall and displayed our icons and visited with each other and members of the congregation who were interested in chatting.
I spoke for quite a while with a tall elderly gentleman in a plaid jacket who told me he had two icons hanging in his apartment. He lamented how during the reformation the Protestants of northern Europe stripped all imagery and art out of the Churches. He told me it was a great and wonderful path I had started down. I think I agree with him – these last few days, I’ve been looking a lot at this icon I’ve created. There is probably some narcissistic pride involved here. But looking at it is peaceful and provokes calm thoughts. Growing up in an evangelical church, studying the saints was not really part of the curriculum. But just like the practices we might be adopting or following, this accomplishment is built on a base and tradition created and maintained by others. Our teacher seems to have refined his teaching method over time so that he can take a group of amateur painters and help them create something beautiful with deep meaning. He studied many years on his own and with others so he could become a master iconographer who has something to share with us. And he learned from other masters who studied the legacy of icons made over nearly 2,000 years. For me, the next step is to paint the same icon, again, now that I have an idea of how to do it. Here’s a few links, just for fun:
Peter Pearson, Iconographer (our teacher): http://www.nb.net/~pearson/home.htm
The Icon FAQ: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/icon_faq.aspx
George Center for Community: http://www.georgelakecity.com/