A group of us traveled to see an art exhibit at Christ Church Cathedral downtown yesterday. The exhibit is called Icons of Transformation by artist Ludmila Pawlowska. She was inspired by Orthodox Christian icons but presents her contemporary icons as a way to see the divine presence, a kind of window that points to a reality beyond the image itself.
One of the icons looks like a small piece of limestone, but if you look closer, you can see many tiny faces looking back at you. The longer you look at it, the more faces you see.
I couldn’t get this image out of my head. In fact, I drove back downtown this morning to look at it again. I kept wondering: Who can I not see?
As we read the horrifying accounts of another mass shooting targeting a predominantly African American community in Buffalo, and other shootings in the days following, I have wondered what it will take to look past the world as it is and begin to see the faces of God’s beloved children who are all around us.
Thomas Merton famously had a mystical experience just walking down the street. He wrote:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
This is the work of our Becoming Beloved Community team at St. Barnabas.
At every meeting, they proclaim a vision of helping our parish create a world where all people may experience dignity and abundant life, seeing themselves and others as beloved children of God where together we can make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
We believe that every human being is made in the image of God. That each and every person is beloved and is an icon, a bearer of God’s divine presence. When we do not look at each other through these eyes, God weeps.
And we know that our world does not yet look like God’s kingdom. Every time another life is taken, we have missed God’s image shining forth.
The Becoming Beloved Community team wrote this week:
“Our hearts are heavy with the news of the racially motivated shooting in Buffalo, NY this week. We call upon the people of St. Barnabas to join us in conversation and reflection for how we can root out white supremacism and stand up against racism and hatred that is part of our common life in America. Our faith calls us to courageously turn towards one another and engage in the work of healing as we strive for peace and justice in our world.”
White supremacist ideology says that white people should have dominance over people of other backgrounds, and they believe that people from other races and cultures should be replaced because their lives are not of value.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to tell the truth in love, to name this ideology as anti-Christian and fundamentally against the teachings of Christ, who always stood up for those who were oppressed.
We too must stand up and insist on the dignity and worth of every person. When those who are targeted are African American, we must acknowledge that racism is a sin and it separates us from God’s presence. We must work toward healing this sin in our world and our communities.
It is easy to get caught up in partisan divides and commentators on the news. Our work, as named in our baptismal vows, is to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And when we fail at doing this, we are called to repent and return to the Lord.
This is not just a philosophical idea. It calls us to recognize that every person created by God has inherent worth. Their very bodies are sacred icons that reveal God's presence. And people of all races, cultures, and backgrounds help us to see Christ’s light shining forth in the world.
May we have the eyes to see the image of God all around us and the will to help create God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Please continue to pray with me this prayer for the human family
(BCP, p. 815):
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.