I will use Anything to Reach You and Teach You

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, July 26, 2020

By: Denise Bennett

In my office, I have a small collection of little statues, icons and Holy Cards of Mary and Jesus. I never intended to collect them. I started out with one figurine of the Blessed Virgin that I picked up in a thrift shop many years ago. It was almost a joke; meant to be ironic rather than devotional.

I was raised in a very intellectual kind of Protestantism. Statuettes and icons were simply not part the deal. They were considered tacky at best and almost heretical at worst – way too Catholic. Maybe my starting to collect them was a form of rebellion. But as time went on, I started to look for them when I went thrifting and friends brought me some additions from faraway places, as well. Simultaneously as my faith journey has deepened so has my appreciation of my holy tchotchkes. I don’t worship or even venerate them, but I have come to realize that they have become visual reminders of a God who sometimes seems very hard to see. I am finding that I need those windows into the divine as icons, as sometimes described, especially in this time when so much of what we do see in this world is hard to look at.

The small icon of Christ, a copy of the one by Rublev, has a mysterious presence. But his dark brown eyes that look unflinchingly into the eyes of the viewer remind me God sees us and does not look away even when we do. The Madonna and Child statuettes, even the ones that are kind of kitschy, remind me of the Incarnation; that God chose to come into this broken world as the vulnerable child of a poor woman. Angels, God’s messengers, on a tiny triptych that a former colleague brought me from Spain, tell me that just as God spoke to people in the Bible, God still speaks to us through scripture and prayer and through the circumstances of our lives. The brown skinned Virgin of Guadalupe on the candle I bought at the grocery store shows me that God is so gracious that the Holy One will appear to us in the forms that we need most, whether it be to comfort or confront us. The many roses painted on that candle are part of the story of vision of Guadalupe, but the first thing that comes to my mind when I see them is a verse from Psalm 96: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

How much I need beauty; the beauty of our liturgy is a large part of what brought me to the Episcopal Church in the first place. How awesome is it that what started out as just an impulse buy in a thrift store has turned out to be a message from God: “I can and will use anything to reach you and teach you.” Is there something like that in your life?