Iconoclasm

Post by Jan
February 18th 2017

As we gathered on that Saturday, I felt very unsettled – too many bubbles and loud gurgles in the normally quiet, deep well. But then that was the underlying theme of our day. Iconoclasm: splitting and healing, breaking and mending; the disturbance suggested by the subject was already in the room.

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In our initial sharing we talked about our sense of the broken-ness of everything, of struggling to be ourselves and knowing how to respond to an increasingly frightening world, of seeing ourselves as the “right” size, neither inflated or deflated. And then the water in the well stilled a little , and we found ourselves thinking again of Wisdom; clever people know many things but not necessarily the best way to use that knowledge – therein is a split. Wisdom is different and opening to Wisdom’s understanding is part of healing the split.

As we talked about our experience of the different aspects of ourselves, we named our feelings of fragmentation. And in witnessing it all, being willing to acknowledge and appreciate the diversity, we discovered the possibility of unity. Once again we had settled into community and were drinking from the deep well.

After a break, and sustained by wonderful cakes and biscuits (Lent was still two weeks away after all) Sam led us through 1,800 years of history in an intense and fascinating tour de force. We learned something of the many splits, schisms and divisions as Christianity grew from a small Jewish cult based on one of several charismatic teachers to a major global religion: institutionalized, political, imperialistic and yet fragmented in spite of all efforts to impose a unified doctrine.

And during this journey we had numerous encounters with women who probably had prominent roles in the early church but have quietly been written out of mainstream history. We know about the Apostles’ apostle, Mary Magdelene, but what about Phoebe, Thecla, Chloe, Prisca and Junia, not to mention the Desert Mothers?

An image of a woman teaching or leading a religious ritual from St. Priscilla's catacombs in Rome.

An image of a woman teaching or leading a religious ritual from St. Priscilla’s catacombs in Rome.

And as well as these ministers to the Divine, there is also evidence of the Divine Feminine as expressed in these beautiful words from a Syriac Christian hymn:

On this day let everyone garland
The door of their heart. May the Holy Spirit
Desire to enter in its door to dwell
And sanctify. For behold, She moves about
To all the doors to see where She may dwell.

When we reached the Reformation, we were face to face with another split. There was a clear need for reform and the excesses of the church were manifest in many many dimensions. At the same time, the reforms that took place destroyed much of the visual beauty in our churches as well as some of the richness of the ancient liturgical rituals. The intolerance of images in churches seems to me to miss the point that deep devotion can come from the contemplation of an icon, and that learning can happen in different ways. I cannot help feeling that aspects of the Reformation left the Church a colder, bleaker place and I am more drawn to holy places that allow the celebration of the divine through the imagination and creativity of the human spirit. Through beauty. Our field trip the next day was testament to the love and acceptance that is possible when beauty is allowed in.

It is difficult to do justice to Sam’s whistle stop tour and I am still left with a sense of disturbance and of sadness for what we have lost. And in today’s troubled world we continue to repeat things from the past, creating new splits and schisms, creating “icons” out of superficial and materialistic things and people…….. I know which of these two images I would rather dwell on!

Virgin and Christ Child. Fresco in Chora Church, Istanbul

Virgin and Christ Child. Fresco in Chora Church, Istanbul

Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans, often described as iconic

Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, often described as iconic

After a companionable shared lunch we had some quiet time, mostly out of doors as the spring sunshine was irresistible. Then our meditation: a deeply personal invitation to meet with an aspect of ourselves that is broken, something unwelcome or challenging. In it, we were given the opportunity to witness how our inner wisdom responded, and in doing so to find a place of healing the split. A very nourishing way to head towards the closing of our day which ended with another of our joyful Ramshackle Rituals.

Sam left us with a lovely metaphor. There may be many diverse fish and indeed, other beings, in the pond or the sea. They are separate and they all held by the same water. Unity is possible.

fish swimming

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