Icon Gazing: Communion in Wonder and Love

In the last few posts I have been exploring ways that icons can reveal the Divine Presence.  In one post I described how spontaneous verbal conversations can arise when viewing an icon.  Words surface in awareness unbidden.  Sometimes these words seem to come from us.  They express our deep desires, fears and hopes.  At other times the words feel like they come from beyond us, from the Divine Presence itself or from the person in the icon who mediates that Presence.  This kind of inner dialogue through words and images unfolds gradually, perhaps interspersed with silent pauses of various lengths. 

In another post I described how a conversation can take place through feelings and forces evoked by the icon. These internal impulses and movements of emotion and will sometimes involve words and symbols that help carry the feeling. At other times the impulses are felt directly with little verbal or symbolic expression. I gave the example from my own life of how the dynamic starry sky in Sacred Bond evoked and mirrored powerful feelings and forces in my life as I painted it.  Wrestling with these powers in my life and in the painting over several months began to work changes in my thinking and feeling at a depth I did not fully understand or control. Eventually, the wrestling led to new insight and a sense of balance and integration.

In this post I want to move a step further and describe what can happen when conversation transforms into silent union in wonder and love.  For me this transformation began to take place when I painted the faces of the Mother and Child.  It took about three weeks to capture the quality of wonder and awe on the Child’s face and the grounded presence and inward gaze of the Mother’s eyes.  When I moved on to paint other parts of Sacred Bond I came back frequently to simply gaze without words at these two luminous faces. The Mother’s face drew me into a sense of peace and calm.  She seemed absorbed in an invisible Reality and grounded solidly in her true self as she walked and held her child. There was no separation in her between contemplation and her loving care for her child.  At times I felt I was not so much looking at her as communing with her in a deep and mysterious interior space we both shared.  

Similarly, I felt I shared the wide-eyed awe and wonder of the Child when I, too, would get lost in wonder at the starry sky.  Communion was happening.  I was not looking at the Child, but gazing at the Cosmos with the Child’s eyes and responding with the Child’s feelings of awe and wonder.

I felt I was stepping into the inner worlds of both Mother and Child, or that they were stepping into my inner world.  Just as they were bonded to one another in a deep and intimate way, I felt bonded with both of them at a level beyond words and feelings.  In those moments I was no longer seeking the Divine Presence but simply leaning back into a Presence that already supported me, just as the Child leans back in trust into the Mother’s arms. There is no method or technique involved at this level, just surrender in trust to a grace that already supports us. We let go of effort and simply rest in a stillness surrounded by silence.