Praying with Icons

Many people draw inspiration for their lives from art. What are some of the images which have inspired you?

Among the ancient Christian spiritual practices is to sit in silent meditation, while gazing on a stylized artistic image known as an icon. Still prevalent in Eastern Christianity today, icons are meant to convey something of the sacred and the eternal. These images, usually of the Christ, Mary, or saints, are meant to draw a person toward the mystical dimension of life.

Icons convey a foundational theological understanding that’s quite different from that of statues or other images. The ancient Hebrew Biblical text, the Book of Genesis, describes human beings as being made in the image and likeness of God. Icons convey something of that image of God, and as such, they are understood to be sacred. When a person gazes on the image of an icon in a meditative way, it is as though the image of God in the art is brought into communion with the Divine image within the person. In this way, the icon draws us to greater union with the Divine.

While I have a fondness for these traditional images, I wonder as people today, if a new type of icon may be more appropriate for our spiritual journeys and growth?

The spiritual journey in our era is evolving. Western spirituality in recent centuries has been preoccupied with the individual and an almost exclusive insistence on personal salvation. This approach is woefully inadequate to address the tremendous challenges that face humanity today, such as climate change, massive patterns of extinction and genocide, and the massive migration of refugees. It is time to envision the Holy One in new and different ways. The Hebrew Scriptures present the entire cosmos is a reflection of the Divine. The creative energy of the Divine animates the cosmos, just as it animates us and life around us. By meditating before icons of cosmology, we can gain a new sense of the wonder and awe of life and find ways to live more fully and more deeply than we have before.

In the prayer room of my home in the 1980’s, there was hanging above the altar, a framed copy of the famous picture of Earth, taken during an early space mission. Clouds swirl over the ocean, the water is deep blue, and the continent of Africa conveys hues of brown. Toward the bottom is the white mass of the frozen Antarctic. This intensity of color is framed by the blackness of space surrounding it.

I remember sitting with this image and being drawn to consider the sacredness of the Earth. There were no borders or distinctions among people. Instead, Earth maintained a quiet calm of blue and white, all in balance, sustaining life for all its inhabitants. Is it not time to expand our religious art and consider the Divine Image as reflected in this broad expanse of our universe?


Take a moment to sit with the image of space posted with this blog. Consider how it inspires you to understand the presence of the Holy One in a new way.

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to Praying with Icons

  1. Thank you for any other great article. The place else could
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    I’ve a presentation next week, and I am at the look for such info.

  2. Lou says:

    Thanks, Joanne. I appreciate the comment.

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