Icon Gazing Part Two: A Conversation in Words

In this post I’d like to give some examples of how a “conversation in words” can take place in gazing at an icon. That conversation can take place at many levels, from simply paying attention to words and thoughts that arise as we contemplate an icon all the way to transformative, inspired encounters in which our lives are deeply changed.

Let’s start with “ordinary” conversations. In quietly gazing at an icon we may find ourselves aware that words are spontaneously arising in our consciousness: “Please help me!” or “Thank you!” or “So-and-so is in need of your healing.” Words from a familiar prayer like the Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary may come to us with a new sense of conviction. “Hail Mary, full of grace…” may seem deeply true. “Yes, you are full of grace…and you’ve shared that grace with me!” Whatever way they arise such words can become part of an ongoing conversation that can over time establish an intimate relationship with the person represented in the icon.

Author David Richo in his book, When Mary Becomes Cosmic, gives two examples of conversations that occurred while he was gazing at images of Mary. The first involved a painting of the Madonna holding the infant Jesus and smiling at him. Richo writes, “I felt her warmth in that moment and was so touched that I spontaneously prayed to Mary, ‘Hold me that way.’ I think it’s the best prayer I ever said to her.” Those four words, “Hold me that way,” expressed a deep desire in David’s heart evoked by the painting. There is an ancient Christian saying, “Short prayer pierces heaven.” This is surely an example of such prayer.

David describes a second encounter with a statue of Mary in Rome. He was part of a large crowd passing by the statue and could not stop to contemplate it. As he glanced back after he had passed by, he heard a voice speaking clearly inside him: “Imagine, that presence is what is inside each of us, something that beautiful, powerful, and perfect.” David comments that he felt he was hearing Mary speak to him through these words. “It was the immortal feminine revealing itself in mortal words.” The depth and quality of inspiration felt like it was clearly beyond his ordinary mind. Though such powerful experiences are relatively uncommon they represent another way in which a conversation with an image can take place.

Another powerful example of a conversation with an image through words happened recently when I sent a digital photo of Sacred Bond to Rita Kowats who had contacted me about an article I had written. Rita wrote back a day or two later: “When I opened Sacred Bond, these words rushed in, ‘I see you.’" When I invited Rita to say more, she responded, “Not wanting intellect to get in the way, I opened her up again and just wrote stream of consciousness, as though speaking directly to her: “I see you.  I see the whole you.  I see the you for which there are no words.  I see the spaces where your spirit lives- spaces connected and spaces waiting for connection. I see you not IN the universe, but AS the universe.” Rita wondered how this conversation might continue to change and develop with further viewings of the image. Her experience is an example of how a conversation can unfold spontaneously over time. The conversation started with three simple words, “I see you.” When she stayed with these words and opened herself to what might arise, more words began to flow revealing new depths of meaning as she gazed at the image a second time.

In the next post I want to move beyond “conversation in words” to explore “conversations through feelings and forces” that can occur while gazing at an icon.