The previous post on prayer referred conformity to the image of Christ. By the way, the Greek word that St. Paul used is icon, a word much used in our culture. Of course, for centuries the word had been preempted by the Byzantine Church to refer to the sacred images used in the liturgy and personal prayer and venerated because they communicated the prototype, that is, the person or biblical episode they portray.
If Paul urges us in the Letter to the Romans to become the image of Christ, Christ himself is the image of the unseen God, according to the Letter to the Colossians. This image, then, is our portal to God. However, we are aware of the discrepancies between ourselves and God, between we who sin and God who is without sin, as was mentioned in the last post. And yet, again according to St. Paul, Jesus who did not know sin was made to be sin for our sake. That’s heady news; but it’s no novelty, in biblical terms.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah offers us four Servant Songs, prophecies of the enigmatic Servant of the Lord: so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human–so will the crowds be astonished at him, and kings stand speechless before him…Without beauty, without majesty we saw him, no looks to attract our eyes; a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces; he was despised and we took no account of him.
Astounding, isn’t it, that God is so driven to be with us that he he meets us where we are, in Christ Jesus? Jesus of Nazareth was not only the Righteous One, the Beloved Son, but the man executed as a criminal for blasphemy and sedition.
This icon of the disfigured Servant is only operative within us but outside of us. How often are we distracted from prayer by the harm, real or imagined, that other people do to us? I am not pretending that we should transcend the pain and the hurt or pretend to transcend it. In fact, I’m proposing that we admit it, embrace it and travel through it. This isn’t just psychological hygiene–though it may also be that–but this is embracing the image of Christ, distorted by human sin (individual and collective) but still his image, if distorted. I’m not suggesting that difficult or warped people are thus rendered easy and pleasant. I’m not suggesting that it’s safe to turn our backs on the violent. But I am challenged to remain aware that this is still a human being and that the distortion is precisely that: a distorted likeness, not the essence of the person. I am also suggesting that my image of another may be distorted by my imagination; my fears and insecurities may distort how I perceive someone.
I’d never pretend that this insight will change everything.; for most of us, the healing of sick relationships is a process, not a quick fix, whether that relationship be with myself or another person. I am proposing, however, that challenging people or my own fallibility and sin or trying circumstances are not distractions from prayer but “places” of prayer, icons for prayer. This may not be comfortable or comforting prayer but it is very real and very deep prayer. Just as an icon can be a portal to the divine, this contemplation of the disfigured Servant can be a portal to God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing.
to be continued