Why Does God Hide?

monks in tree

God hides. God makes Himself known. God hides.

This pattern runs throughout the Scriptures. A holy hide-and-seek, the pattern is not accidental nor unintentional. It is rooted in the very nature of things in the Christian life. Christianity whose God is not hidden is not Christianity at all. But why is this so?

In my previous article, I wrote:

Our faith is about learning to live in the revealing of things that were hidden. True Christianity should never be obvious. It is, indeed, the struggle to live out what is not obvious. The Christian life is rightly meant to be an apocalypse.

God is not obvious. That which is obvious is an object. Objects are inert, static and passive. The tree in my front yard is objectively there (or so it seems). When I get up in the morning and take the dog outside, I expect the tree to be there. If it is autumn, I might study its leaves for their wonderful color change (it’s a Gingko). But generally, I can ignore the tree – or not. That’s what objects are good for. They ask nothing of us. The freedom belongs entirely to us, not to them.

This is the function of an idol – to make a god into an object. He/she/it must be there. The idol captures the divine, objectifies it and renders it inert and passive.

The God of the Christians smashes idols. He will not stay put or become a passive participant in our narcissism. He is not the God-whom-I-want.

Christ tells us, “Ask, and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” The very center of the life promised us in Christ requires asking, seeking and knocking. The reason is straightforward: asking, seeking and knocking are a mode of existence. But our usual mode of existence is to live an obvious life.

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to buy an icon and add it to your icon corner, than it is to actually spend time and pray in your corner? There is a kind of “Orthodox acquisitiveness” that substitutes for asking, seeking and knocking. Acquisition is part of our obvious form of existence. We have been trained in our culture to consume. We acquire objects. On the whole, we don’t even have to seek the objects we acquire, other than to engage in a little googling. We no longer forage or hunt. We shop.

But we were created to ask, seek and knock. That mode of existence puts us in the place where we become truly human. The Fathers wrote about this under the heading of eros, desire. Our culture has changed the meaning of eros into erotic, in which we learn to consume through our passions. This is a distortion of true eros.

Christ uses the imagery of seeking (eros) in a number of His parables: The Merchant in Search of Fine Pearls; The Woman with the Lost Coin; The Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep; The Father in the Prodigal Son; The Treasure Buried in a Field…

But how does seeking (eros) differ from what I want? Are these parables not images of consuming? Learning the difference is part of the point in God’s holy hide-and-seek. The mode of existence to which He calls us must be learned, and it must be learned through practice.

Objects are manageable. They do not overwhelm or ask too much of us. Consumption is an activity in which we ourselves always have the upper hand. St. James offers this thought:

You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

What we seek (eros) in a godly manner, is something that cannot be managed or objectified. It is always larger and greater than we are. As such, it even presents a little danger. It may require that we be vulnerable and take risks. We are afraid that we might not find it while also being afraid that we will.

The parables are not about a merchant with a string of pearls, or a woman with a coin collection. The merchant risks everything he owns just for the chance of buying this one pearl. The woman seeks this coin as though there were no other money in the world.

When I was nearing the point of my conversion to Orthodoxy, a primary barrier was finding secular employment. It’s hard for someone whose resume only says, “priest,” to get a job, or even an interview for a job. That search had gone on, quietly, for nearly two years. It was not an obsession – rather, more like a hobby. But one day, a job found me. The details are not important here. But the reality is. The simple fact that a job was likely to happen, that I only had to say, “Yes,” was both exciting and frightening in the extreme. If I said yes, then everything I had said I wanted would start to come true (maybe). And everything I knew as comfortable and secure would disappear (with four children to feed). And if everything I said I wanted started coming true, then the frightening possibility that I might not actually want it would also be revealed! I could multiply all of these possibilities many times over and not even begin to relate everything that was in my heart.

But the point that was at hand was the beginning of the true search. The risk, the reward, the threat, the danger, the joy and the sorrow, all of them loomed over me, frequently driving me to prayer. I made the leap and began a tumultuous period in my life. But my life, like most, eventually settled down and slowly became obvious.

st cuthbert praysSt. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, one of the great monastic heroes of the Celtic lands, had a way of dealing with the obvious. He would walk into the North Sea from the island where he lived, and stand in the waves up to his neck. It was a dangerous sea, not like an American beach. He stood there at the point of danger – and prayed. St. Brendan crossed the Atlantic with his monastic companions in a boat made of animal hides. Countless thousands of monastics wandered into deserts, forests, holes in the ground, islands, all in order to place themselves at that point where God may be found. Seeking God is not done in the place of safety, though it is the safest place in all the world.

Eros does not shop. True desire, that which is actually endemic to our nature, is not satisfied with the pleasures sought by the passions. It will go to extreme measures, even deep into pain, in order to be found by what it seeks.

All of this is the apocalyptic life of true faith. The question for us is how to live there, or even just go there for once in our lives. I “studied” Orthodoxy for 20 years. All of my friends knew (and often joked) about my interest. Many said they were not surprised when I converted.

I was. I was surprised because I know my own cowardice and fear of shame. If you liked Ferraris, your friends wouldn’t be surprised if you had photos and models, films and t-shirts. It might become obnoxious. But if you sold your house and used the money to make a down payment on one, you’d be thought a fool, possibly insane. Seeking God is like that.

There are quiet ways that do not appear so radical. The right confession before a priest can be such a moment. Prayer before the icons in the corner of a room can become such a moment, though it takes lots of practice and much attention. They cannot be objects and the prayer cannot be obvious.

All of this is of God, may He be thanked. We do not have to invent all of this for ourselves. It is not “technique.” The God who wants us to seek is also kind enough to hide. Finding out where He is hiding is the first step. Finding out where you are hiding is the next. But the greatest and most wonderful step is turning the corner, buying the field, selling everything that you have, picking up the coin, making that phone call, saying “yes” and “yes” and “yes.”

 

 

43 comments:

  1. From The Orthodox Arts Journal’s most recent article:
    “Art reconciles us to life. Art is the introduction of order and harmony in the soul, not of trouble and disorder… If an artist does not accomplish the miracle of transforming the soul of the spectator into an attitude of love and forgiveness, then his art is only an ephemeral passion.”

    Father, you are a true artist. You have a beautiful gift with language and others are blessed by it.

  2. Father, in response to your comment to Sunny, sometimes it is obscure, sometimes it is obvious – but the latter seems to be in my personal experience because I have been seeking 🙂 Thank you.

  3. I have trouble reconciling images of God. God-who-hides seems antithetical to God-the-Father or God-the-lover. My own earthly father never seemed to find it necessary to obscure his presence, and his love for me was always undeniable, always present, never mysterious in it’s certainty (although perhaps in its profundity). I would like to know that God loves me, I wish to take comfort in the solace of the Father. But, frankly, when I think of God I mostly see his distaste for me, and his demand that I act and be in ways that I fear I cannot. I’ve not the strength nor the fortitude for grand spiritual exploits, no mettle for ascending to the divine. I suppose that makes me a spiritual coward and weakling. But it seems to me that that’s what I am. I think it was Father Schmeman who said that the opposite of despondency was spiritual boldness. But, frankly, I’d rather cease. God’s deal seems raw to me. “Exist, and you can being a god! Or fail, and suffer endlessly” No thanks, personally. If You could kindly withdraw your support of my being, crack open the ‘bridge of diamond’ and let me lapse into non-existence, that would be appreciated. St. Gregory of Nyssa said that those who die in infancy are granted paradise, albeit a lesser one than the saints who lived and conquered the passions. That would have been fine. If someone offered me a guaranteed small some of money, or the chance to win vast wealth (with the caveat that failure meant bankruptcy) I’d take the sure thing.

  4. “The God who is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, who gives us his divine life and peace and joy forever, is first of all the Divine Lover who wounds His beloved, and then hides from her, hoping to be sought and found. He is the Father who chastens and disciplines His children. He is the Vinekeeper who cuts and prunes His vines so that they bear much fruit. He is the Jeweler who burns His gold in His divine fire so that it would be purged of all impurities. And He is the Potter who continually smashes and refashions and re-bakes His muddy clay so that it can be the earthen vessel that He wants it to be, capable of bearing His own transcendent grace and power and glory and peace.” -Fr. Thomas Hopko

  5. Thomas,
    You sound wounded, and I understand it. I’ve been wounded from time to time. “When I think of God, I mostly see his distaste for me.” That’s not God, that’s a reflection of something else in you, or a “projection.”

    You really sound like you don’t like what seems obvious in your life, even if you think that a small pension and being left alone would be fine, or to have already died with things turning out marginally ok. It sounds a lot like depression. If it is, don’t ignore it. Get help. Please.

  6. St. Porphyrios writes (Wounded by Love), “If the soul is disfigured and becomes unworthy of Christ’s love, Christ suspends the relationship, because Christ does not wish ‘uncouth’ souls in His proximity.” And there are other saints who say similar things. We can say that God loves us, but is this love anything like the love we are familiar with? If it is, why does He hide? If it is not, why even call it love?

  7. Thomas,
    Lay St. Porphyrios’ statement aside. It’s not helpful for you right now. If God hides, it’s only because we need to seek. Everything He does, He does for us…not for Himself. “Love does not seek it’s own…”

  8. Father,
    I don’t know whether it is obvious. But I don’t think it matters. All glory, hidden and manifest, to the Father of Lights.
    +Sunny

  9. “There is a kind of “Orthodox acquisitiveness” that substitutes for asking, seeking and knocking.”

    “What we seek (eros) in a godly manner, is something that cannot be managed or objectified.”

    This is such an eye opener for me father. My acquisitiveness is often overwhelming and I get frustrated because I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t satisfy it. I’m beginning to understand now that it’s because I’m trying to objectify what cant be. And your right I think the reason I do this is because I’m afraid.

  10. Pascal’s favorite scripture in his Pensees seems to be Isaiah 45:15:

    “God being thus hidden, any religion that does not say God is hidden is not true, and every religion which does not give the reason of it is not instructive. Our religion does all this: Vere tu es Deus absconditus.” (585)

  11. I rejoice in what I accumulate by my acquisitiveness but I get frustrated because I cant seem to reach what I receive. So what I do is acquire more in acquisitiveness. But its endless frustration. How do I reach the satisfaction of what I receive?

  12. Michael,
    “Trying to objectify what can’t be…” Yes. That seems very true. First we pray. And we pray very honestly. Sometimes I have to say, “Where are you?” And I say it a lot. Sometimes I say, “Where am I?” But always, I say, “God help me.” We really cannot get this right ourselves. We’re not told to get it right. What we want isn’t getting it right. What we want is God. Be patient. God is not a modernist, and He moves at a very different pace. He is so patient, He can wait our entire lifetime if that is what is needed.

  13. Fr. Stephen,
    Thanks for sharing a little of what you experienced internally during your movement into Orthodoxy. As an evangelical missionary with a family and one who has “studied” Orthodoxy for 4 years, this post describes where I am in life. I’ve done the research, attended dozens of Divine Liturgies, set up an icon corner – and yet I still wonder “What do I really want?” It seems like Jesus has led me to Orthodoxy, and I’m waiting to see if he leads me somewhere else. But he doesn’t. Thankfully, the local priest is good man, and I hang on to his words: “Be patient. It takes some people 10 years to become Orthodox. There’s a lot that has to change internally, and that takes time.”

    I often think about the parable of the treasure in the field. I’ve been searching for treasure, I found it, and now I’m wrestling with whether to risk it all and buy the field. It’s much easier to preach and teach on this passage than to actually do it – especially later in life.

    Thank you for your words. Pray for me.

  14. Great point Father. Lazy/slothful people wait for things to come to them. People with true Eros cannot stop until they find what they pursue. I always hearken back to the very essence of what makes something valuable. If one can have that Ferrari for nothing, then they will not value it, care for it or care whether they lose it. If one has sold all they had to obtain it they will value it highly and strive to maintain it and keep it. To put it in practical terms if Salvation could be purchased for the low low price of one sinner’s prayer, we would not value it, but if Salvation cost the Lord and us our lives, we would treasure it above all else.

  15. Thomas,

    Prayer is the first remedy for gloom and despondency. And to trust (and endeavour to cultivate this kind of trust) in God’s love and providence for us -despite our weaknesses or our difficult predicaments- surely is an ongoing secret prayer, which can fetch the energies of God wherever they are required. After working on this, a more powerful prayer might subsequently follow – as the fruit of joy and humble thankfulness.
    We need nothing more for our salvation than the knowledge of our unworthiness and weakness and this trust in God’s mercies. Yet our venture must be that this ‘double awareness’ is first and foremost joyful, first a little and then a lot, because, although we know that realistically, “In the world we shall have tribulation”, we focus on the second and most vital part of this key teaching of our Lord, “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” If God has overcome our world for us as a Man, and keeps saying to us “to not let our hearts be troubled” He wants to bestow on us His unshakable peace and joy, which remains even in the midst of every tempest. He wants to teach us not just joy when there are reasons for it, but even when there seem to be only reasons for the opposite, that is the flame of the true Christian that then empowers him (as “Church” and as “Christ” – and not as lone individual) to love with the love for all that the Spirit of God wants to establish in his heart; that’s why Christ asks that we don’t take our mind’s eye off His loving gaze as he asked Peter when he walked on the turbulent sea.
    God is surely right there with you, heed not the thoughts that constantly vivify the hazards of the waves at sea. (Matthew 14:30)

  16. Elder Aimilianos sometimes comes across harsh but very discerningly counselled that we should treat God’s hiddeness (during prayer) like this: … “if I get tired during my prayer, in my mindful attendance, my presence before God, and if I ignore God or am aware of nothing other than ‘absence’, if I am overcome by sleepiness or do not understand or miss out the words of prayer and I live amidst a thousand darknesses, I must be sure that within my ignorance, my blindness, in this very darkness, my God is present. God hears, God sees, God appears before me. May I not want to enjoy Him for myself. May I want – if I can word it so – God to enjoy me. I must want God to rejoice at me. Whether I’m asleep or awake, whether I live or die, whether I am like a pure vitality before God or no more than a dead man, no matter what I am, what is important is for me to be present before Him. Not Him to me… asceticism, ascetic struggle means to sit there before God … Not to ask for me to see God but for God to see me.”

  17. This is a wonderful writing, Father! I’m putting together an icon corner (or trying to figure one out) and this hits home. It’s been a bit of endless confusion and uncertainty and now I can see why….

    To put it in practical terms if Salvation could be purchased for the low low price of one sinner’s prayer, we would not value it, but if Salvation cost the Lord and us our lives, we would treasure it above all else.

    Wonderfully stated, Nicholas.

  18. Thomas, yes, it sounds like depression. I’ve experienced the same despondency and the same thoughts. Fr. Stephen is right. Thoughts that God looks at you with distaste are not from God–rather they are from the enemy who seeks to discourage us from seeking God. God is right there, and He is just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He has never left you, even if your present circumstance (internal or external) makes you for the moment insensible to this. Prolonged stress (social or physical), some kind of trauma, or hereditary biochemistry can all play a role in bringing on a depressed state. It is a physiological response to environmental toxins (spiritual, social or physical) with potentially very serious consequences for mood. Especially if you start having thoughts of ending your life, and definitely if you are stuck here and have been for a while, yes, please reach out to your doctor, priest/pastor and/or therapist. May God grant you grace!

  19. Thank you, Father Stephen, for this post. The timing is impeccable. I appreciate that you shared some more of your story to Orthodoxy. The account about St. Cuthbert particularly intrigues me. What is the difference between placing yourself in a position of great vulnerability or danger (as St. Cuthbert did by going out into the waves) and testing God? Is it simply a difference of intentions and expectations?

    You also mention: “Countless thousands of monastics wandered into deserts, forests, holes in the ground, islands, all in order to place themselves at that point where God may be found. Seeking God is not done in the place of safety, though it is the safest place in all the world.” Your last statement there is one that I had arrived at a good while ago, but have been testing its boundaries during the past couple of years as I get closer to taking my own leap.

    In light of your comment about “Orthodox acquisitiveness,” I only think it appropriate to pray to St. Cuthbert about this while also asking for your clarification. ;).

    And thank you, Dino, for the quote from Elder Aimilianos, that is very helpful for me, and I hope also for others.

  20. Thomas,

    I can appreciate the pain in your post. I understand. A “you seem depressed and wounded ” really doesn’t say much to the actual content of the hiddenness and “baby universalism” that you wrote of (and such questions arise inexorably if we are honest), and I get that. I don’t have any reply other than to say that you aren’t alone in your struggles.

  21. If I may comment to Theophilus…. I wanted to become Orthodox for years, 12 or 15 maybe? And one day I thought to myself, “What if I get too old and die never having taking the leap?” I am now Orthodox and have never regretted a moment.

  22. Father Bless!!!

    So much wisdom in your post. Thank you!!!

    It reminded me of something I read recently from Jerome A. Miller’s book entitled ‘The Way of Suffering: A Geography of Crisis’.
    ——-
    “What am I then, in my ordinary life, if not someone who refuses to experience crisis of any sort, someone who keeps his life closed to every Other that threatens to disrupt it? I treat all of the upsetting things that happen to me as problems to be handled, managed, dealt with. I impose the boundaries of the ordinary on anything that tries to break through them.

    And does this not mean that what I avoid above all is the boundless as such? Insofar as I want everything to be manageable, I want there to be nothing infinite in my life, nothing that surpasses or exceeds my power to cope and handle. If by the divine is meant something radically Other, infinitely beyond my capacity to control, then I must say that usually I will to exclude everything divine from my life. I intend to have no gods before me. But in order to be in control, I cannot give any Other the freedom to be itself. For in the Otherness of the Other lies its power to transcend the boundaries I need to impose on it if I am to be sure it will not upset me.

    That is why the will to control, which tries to deprive every Other of its independence, can never gain more than an empty victory. For every increase in control results in a shrinkage of one’s universe, and absolute control means living in a universe where the only reality is one’s will to be in control. It is true that then there are no gods before one; that is, in fact, a god oneself – but the kind of god that is so terrified by Otherness that he can let nothing else be unless it is wholly subservient to his control of it. The will to control is always motivated by a fear of vulnerability. It is what we feel driven to practice when we cannot bear to expose ourselves in our weakness to an Other who might wound us. What would a human being be like who took that risk instead of avoiding it? To answer that question we have to find a door that leads out of the room where we are perfectly safe and perfectly alone.”

  23. Bless, Father.

    These last several posts have been positively exciting! Thank you so very much for them, and for being a rather bright lighthouse during this Pascha for me.

  24. I’m still struggling to quite understand what you mean by “obvious” and it’s opposite. I hope you right more on this topic.

  25. Interesting that in the Garden, God walked with Adam (both of them) in the cool of the day. Later it was they who hid. Now He hides. Maybe something redemptive is going on.

  26. Christ is risen!!!
    Dear Father,
    Your article is an eye-opener to me. Many times I neglect prayer just because I feel like God is absent. By that, I mean the standing in my icon corner. I keep praying under my breath while doing a million other things, but never standing still or staying put. (I know I have ADD).
    What you said about seeking and knocking and asking, and how this is our true existence, hit home. A constant yearning in my heart tells me so. However, I almost always seem to evade satisfying it just to avoid sitting in God’s absence.
    I would like also to thank Dino for quoting Fr Aimilianos… “Not to ask for me to see God but for God to see me.” This meant a lot for me. Thank you…

  27. Theophilus,

    I know an Orthodox missionary who converted from evangelicalism while he was in Africa. It was a costly decision (I won’t mention all the details on his behalf) and continues to be so, but now he’s back at work under the same bishop who baptized him five years ago. I think he’d say he’s glad of it, despite its difficulties. Still, be patient and attentive to the Lord!

  28. I have an icon that was given to me by a non-Orthodox friend for no obvious reason. It is the icon of Peter sinking on the waves and Jesus reaching out His hand to save him.

    If we never get out of the boat we never have the experience of being saved. I like to think I am Peter but mostly I find ways to stay in the boat even as it breaks apart under me.

    Thomas having gone through what you describe for many years, I know that you can learn a great deal from your experience-not the least is the ability to discern your own voice from that of the accuser. He sounds so authentic, Yet if you listen closely you can tell how false it really is.

    The Eros of nothingness can be quite seductive–the surcease of sorrow and pain. But that is death, a false view of even death.

    God gives life and gives it abundantly. Growth often involves pain. It always seems risky.

    The biggest risk for me is always engaging others.

    May God continue to hold you in His arms because that is where you are.

  29. Thomas, I have been where you are. I wasn’t even sure I could make it into Orthodoxy because of my dysfunctional ideas of God.

    All I can say is take joy in the little things. As much as you are able, follow the rhythms of the church. They have undergirded me like nothing else ever has and provided stability that has never been present for me. And that has translated into an increasing assurance of Gods love for me and all of us no matter what I feel.
    You are so loved. May you know it in the core of who you are.

  30. Thank you Dino, for the quote from the Elder. I have read that Saint Gregory (Palamas) prayed for 10 years or so, something like: Oh, Lord, enlighten my darkness. Obviously, he obtained the pearl that he was seeking.

  31. @ Theophilus,

    Forgive me please. I realize that each person’s situation is different, even though some may appear to be similar.

    I love reading biographies. There is a book you might enjoy entitled “From Baptist to Byzantium.” It details the account of a Protestant missionary to Serbia, who became Orthodox while serving as a missionary.

  32. SW,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful article.

    As if an answer to my prayer about how to comfort Thomas, I came across this prayer on the back of an old icon in our church office (it was simply titled “A Prayer”):

    O God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:
    How marvelous is the way you created us in
    your own image and likeness,
    and even more wondrous is how
    you renew us and save us.
    Just as your Son took our humanity on himself,
    so let us share in his divinity.
    By your Holy Spirit,
    inspire us to live always in a way
    that reveals your goodness and love to all the world.
    For you are indeed our God,
    and we give you glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
    now and forever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

  33. Forgive me, for I am but a new convert and suckling. I’m wondering though if it isn’t true that God does not hide Himself from us, but that our lack of holiness, our lack of perception and awareness of His everywhere-presence is why we experience this seeming hiddenness? That said, I know there are times when it appears that God reveals Himself to us in more supra-natural ways than usual. (Of course, we become more regularly aware and mindful of God’s presence incrementally through participation in the mystagogy of the Orthodox Church.)

    The whole deus absconditus thing somehow strikes me as something more at home in Protestant, two-storey thought.

    Just my two cents (or actually five, since we no longer have pennies in Canada!).

  34. James Isaac,
    There is a long tradition within the spiritual fathers of the Church that describe this hiddenness. The Life of St. Silouan is a prime example. It is the dynamic of a living God who is not a static force. He draws us towards Himself, and sometimes that looks like hiding. It’s only point, however, is so that He might be found if we seek.

    Think of teaching a toddler to walk… At first you hold their hands and they practice. You begin to get a feel that they’re getting steady. So you stand in front of them and beckon them to come to you, maybe a step or two, and then you catch them. You play this game until they are progressively walking further. I think this is an apt analogy.

  35. Thank you Father for your reply. I haven’t read too deeply into the Fathers so it is welcome to be corrected in this way!

    Interestingly enough, Luther uses a similar analogy to the one you mention to describe God’s working with us. I find it to be such a pity that he did not discover (or possibly wish to discover!) the Orthodox Church as his sincerity and spiritual experience seems at least largely genuine. But we’ll leave it to God to judge…

  36. James Isaac,
    Luther is a fascinating character. If you told me to pick my top 5 guys that I would like to sit and have a beer with, Luther would definitely be in there. 🙂

  37. This article is exquisite and resonates deep in my soul. My favorite line might be, “Eros does not shop.” in dark times I am comforted by St. Therese of Lisieux, who simply said, “God may hide, but we know He is there.” Thank you. Christ is Risen!

  38. Father, is there a difference between the tree in your yard and the icon in my corner? Is the difference that I pray to the icon but not to the tree? The icon is an object, one that must be there once I place it in my home, isn’t it?

    You write: “This is the function of an idol – to make a god into an object. He/she/it must be there. The idol captures the divine, objectifies it and renders it inert and passive.”

    I’m struggling to understand the difference between my icons and your definition of an idol, please help me to see the distinction if you have the time. Thank you for your writing, Father, it is continually revealing the world to me in new ways.

  39. There is a distinction between icon and idol. An icon could certainly be used as an idol, and this would be an abuse. Icons are relational events that can only be rightly seen in personal encounter with what they represent. In a way, they are the antithesis of an object.

    I should add, that the tree in my front yard can also cease to be an object and become an event of communion if it is rightly approached. Jesus, I believe, never saw anything as an object. His treatment of the fig tree, though alarming in certain respects, was incredibly personal. I don’t know about the particular history of that fig tree, and how it came to not bear fruit, but I think Christ knew.

    Seeing an icon as icon, means seeing it more as window than as object. Through the icon, I see the saint. The saint is present at the window, but the window is not the saint himself. If I forget the saint, the icon lapses into object/idol. Hope that’s of some help. I have written elsewhere that we can only truly see an icon through veneration. Veneration is the proper way to behold a saint. They are not historical figures, but living persons.

  40. God the Word shines in humility (theoretically, we all know this) If you lack humility, like I do, the Word (the reading of the Word) comes with understanding, understanding comes with seeking, seeking needs persistence and with grace it becomes prayer and tears and more tears and repentance. God the Word should therefore speak to you and than move in you all the time. He is only hiding according to our disposition to seek. And the bigger the struggle, the bigger the reward.

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