The first time I saw an icon was in a Russian Orthodox church somewhere outside of Moscow.
In March of 1994, meat was cut and sold on folding tables street side, a closed public swimming pool remained in the sanctuary of a church, and we met plenty of folks trying to figure out what it meant to be a capitalist (think they still are).
My german tour group (I was an exchange student at the time), unloaded at what I think was a former country retreat of the czars. We wandered into the church, mostly untouched by years of communism. All over the walls were icons.
These works of art, slowly and painstakingly created, were a whole different language to me. Not even knowing their story or understanding what they really were, they drew me into another world.
With variation of location and religion, icons are meant to draw the viewer’s attention past the picture and towards God.
There is one particular object that acts as an icon for me.
When in Egypt (Jan. 2007), we were visiting tombs at Deir el Medina, two young girls were selling small horses they had made from scraps. I actually wanted the horse (I love quilting, etc.), so I gave them all the cash I had. I did not have much cash at the moment, at least by U.S.A. standards, but for them it was a decent amount.
I understand that they were probably out there everyday. They probably never went to school. They probably would be in an arranged marriage in only a handful of years. By purchasing their horse, I may have just been encouraging an unjust system. But, by purchasing their horse, I was paying them for their labor in a system which could not be instantly changed. By purchasing their horse, I will remember them always.
When I look at their horse, even with a passing glance, I pray for them. I pray for them and all children in their situation. I pray for all those who were not born into the luxury my children were. I pray for all those without the opportunity to always have a full stomach, to receive as much education as they want, to choose who to love, and to determine where they live and work.
When I look at their horse, I turn to God.
Creator God, help us always turn towards You. May it be through song, scripture, or an Egyptian Horse, help us be open to anyway that brings us closer to You. Amen.