“We have this treasure in jars of clay so that it made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” ~~ 2 Corinthians 4:7
I brought the “Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Art & Icon Experience” to Seminary during Art & Religion Week. We were happily making icons from the different shapes and colors of macaroni, beans, and other natural materials. Some of our more serious students were appalled that we would desecrate the image of Christ by making his holy image with such unworthy materials. I asked, is marble more worthy than clay? Yes, they said. And is clay more worthy than bread? Well, they didn’t know for sure. This bread is my body given for you, the Lord said. Indeed, they agreed. The bread is made of wheat, and they agreed again. The macaroni is wheat also, the body of Christ representing the body of Christ, so why exactly do you have a problem with macaroni icons? It just doesn’t seem holy enough! If a child makes a macaroni image, is that all right? Yes, but when an adult does the same thing, it just doesn’t seem right!
Yes! We adults MUST be serious and holy at all times. And use important media: expensive materials that are worthy of our Lord’s attention and approval. I remember a similar experience when I brought the GMMMTA&IE to the Academy for Spiritual Formation at Camp Summatanga when were studying Greek Orthodox spirituality. Our presenter wasn’t exactly sure we would be able to create anything during our workshop that could ever approach the status of an icon in the true sense of the word, for he was sure that our creations could never become a holy opening into the divine realm, a window into heaven, so to speak. The women had brought their auntie’s and grannie’s costume jewelry from dusty old boxes that had been passed down in their families. They were well loved treasures and memories of the saints who had gone before them. Though they weren’t precious pearls, real gold, or even gems, they were placed carefully around the postcard reproductions of the real icons that I had brought for their use. These iconographers worked with love, prayer and holy intentions to create an object of veneration that transcended their mean materials and entered into a new realm of meaning and importance. These small decorated boards were now “real icons,” for they drew the viewer into the mystery of the holy and brought one into another world beyond this material one.
We may have begun in ordinary time with ordinary materials, but we ended up in a sacred time and sacred place. If only we had stopped to realize, gold and silver, as well as rubies and pearls are all ordinary materials of this earth: only their scarcity makes them valuable. We could have decided to value labor and time as having a higher value, then we would value the quality of workmanship in a handmade item higher than diamonds or gold.
It is a mystery why some paintings of the image of Christ are icons, and others are only images. Perhaps the artist was more inspired, so the Holy Spirit was working within and through the artist and entered the painting through their hand. I do not know, but I do know that some paintings touch the viewer’s heart across the ages, and others just leave us cold. That is the difference between an icon and an image: the icon speaks, the image is silent. Just as the power God places in our humble jars of clay is not of our making, so the power in the icon is not of our doing either; God’s power to touch us from the spiritual realm isn’t something we can command!