Monday, October 15, 2012


That's Iconic

Allison Backous @ Think Christian:
It wasn’t until I went to college, where I was given a stronger exposure to the ways that Catholics and Orthodox Christians appropriate images in worship, that I could tease out the fairly polemic view that my first church offered.

I learned the difference between “worship” and “veneration” and realized that these other traditions understand images as tools for, not objects of, worship - that they invite the viewer into the Biblical narrative in a way that arrests both mind and heart and that brings the viewer to a richer, fuller encounter with that narrative. I visited Greece, where monasteries that were well over 1,000 years old lined the walls with icons, the smoky incense cloaking the ancient, gilded paint. I was brought to view images as windows of mystery that deepened and encouraged my faith.

And it helped me to encounter the many images that mark my life in the Reformed church. Protestants carry so many images, too, though they might not look as vibrant as the images I have encountered in other traditions.

There’s the image of bread and cup; the image of the baptismal font; the image of rainbow, of the cross, of a dove. When I made my profession of faith, I was given a bronze cross with images of hands carved around the cross’s edges, each holding a loaf of bread.
Couple of take-aways here. Images can be "read." That is to say they are not merely "pretty" - they tell a story and the that can do so effectively and in some cases very efficiently. There was a Star Trek episode about this idea:
The senior staff discusses their latest mission; to make contact with the Tamarian race who have been transmitting signals toward Federation space for weeks. The Enterprise makes contact with a Tamarian ship in orbit around the planet El-Adrel. Though the universal translator can translate their words, the Tamarians only communicate through metaphor which baffles the Enterprise crew. Likewise, the Tamarians cannot understand Picard's straightforward use of language


They deduce that the Tamarian language is entirely based on metaphors from Tamarian folklore. They learn that Darmok was a hunter and Tanagra is an island, but nothing else. Without knowing the stories behind the metaphors, the Tamarian language remains indecipherable.
Being the geek that I am the first question that crossed my mind was, "If the language is metaphor, how are the underlying stories transmitted initially?" My presumption is through image. If you read an image (a comic without words, thought balloons or narration - the Japanese are really good at them and they are fun to read) then is it any different from reading scripture?

The second thing to take away is that reading an image is evocative in a way that reading words can never be. When we read words we must engage thought processes that can crowd out emotion and spirit. For get the image for a minute and think of the most beautiful thing you ever saw - a mountain top, the Grand Canyon, whatever it may be. It evoked more in you than mere thought. An image CAN do that and in doing so open us to things that words cannot.

One of the problems we have is that images these days are so profane. They do not seek to touch us in these places words cannot reach. They seek either commercial success or to express what the artist thinks, rather than touch the "reader."

Better images make better people.

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