Images of the Soul and Touchstones of Discernment

In the previous post I explored the experience of communion with an icon in which one steps through the door of the icon into the spiritual presence which it represents.  I shift from looking at the icon to looking out from the icon at the world.  I see the world with the eyes and love the world with the heart of the holy person pictured in the icon.  In Sacred Bond, for example, I felt I was beginning to share in the wonder and awe of the Child’s vision and the love and care of the Mother’s heart.  I remember saying to myself, “This is what it’s like at my core. This is a picture of my soul.”  I resonated with the words a friend wrote about the Mother in Sacred Bond: “She is in touch with the depth of her soul” and “her heart is connecting with the immediacy of her deep self.”  The process of painting and contemplating Sacred Bond was for me like a long retreat which forged a connection with my unique self which knows itself as integrally connected in compassion and love with the whole world and the Divine Presence which encompasses all.   

When such a connection is made it forms a touchstone for spiritual discernment.  I discover a sense of myself and the world not only as unconditionally loved by God, but also as participating now in Divine Love.  In the story of the baptism of Jesus this moment of discovery is expressed in the image of the Spirit descending like a dove upon him as his deep self is affirmed as the beloved child of the Father by a voice from heaven. These are symbolic ways of expressing a reality hidden from our ordinary senses.  In Sacred Bond a similar truth is conveyed visually through the image of a Mother embracing her Child with loving care.  Both the Baptism story and Sacred Bond point beyond themselves to an identity rooted in an experience of unconditional love—in the Baptism story by a Divine Father and in Sacred Bond by a Holy Mother.

Once I know who I am that identity is put to the test.  The question becomes: How do I stay true to my deep self in the everyday demands and difficult decisions of life?  There is no method or formula that can answer that question with certainty, but regularly spending time with a sacred image that opened the door to the Divine Presence is a practice that has helped me.  The image is not just a visual reminder of a past experience.  It puts me in touch with an unfolding process deep in my soul and in the world around me.  The relationship with the sacred image deepens a felt connection not with the outer form of the image, but with the living Presence that is embodied in the image and seems to shine through it.  

I test the choices I meet in everyday life against the evolving sense of who I am and who God is for me. Are the choices I face consonant with that unique identity in God and compassion for the world around me?  Are my choices transparent to the Divine light within me?  Often these questions do not have quick or easy answers.  I need to live into them before the way forward becomes clear enough for a choice to be made.  Even then some uncertainty and a sense of mystery often remain.  The goal, however, is not certainty, but integrity, trust and deeper self-knowledge.  Even mistakes and failures along the way can further deepen compassion, love, humility and freedom if I continue to look and listen for Divine Life and Love unfolding in me and around me.