Archive for September 2nd, 2007

Icons – A Room with a View

September 2, 2007

akademgorodok.jpg

Dreams are interesting things – our modern age either makes too little of them or too much of them – but mostly, we believe our dreams are about us and about the inside of our heads. Those who make too little of their dreams write them off to anxiety or other stresses of the day – wish fulfillment – or a variety of other mundane causes. Those who make too much of them remind me of those who are Western believers in reincarnation – they always seem to have been somebody famous – while their dreaming counterparts always try to find the meaning of the universe or something equally significant in the slightest symbol. I don’t mean to sound so jaundiced on the subject, but I once spent a week at a Jungian Conference (long ago and far away and definitely in a different galaxy). Such a week can make you afraid to go to sleep.

But dreams certainly have a signficance – and as shown in Scripture, they can indeed be sent by God. My favorite Biblical dream is that of Jacob, who sees a ladder stretching into the heavens and angels going up and coming down. His reaction upon waking was to attribute the dream to the place in which he was sleeping:”This is none other than the gate of heaven and the house of God!” And, of course, as the good patriarch that he was he erected a stone and anointed it with oil.

Years ago, some years before I became Orthodox, I had a dream in which I was in a Church. Its construction was of log-timber and it was obvious to me that it was an Orthodox Church. There were icons and lampadas, and a sizable crowd of people. What fascinated me about this dream-Church were its many rooms. Everywhere you went there were steps up and steps down and rooms here and rooms there and all of them full of people and icons and lampadas and the faint smell of incense and the low murmur of worship and prayers. I remember the dream lasting quite a while, but with nothing more significant than the many rooms – and how it felt to be there.

That feeling is what remained with me when I awoke and remains with me to this day. The description I have given is probably the best I can do, for I have no words for how it felt, other than to say it felt like an Orthodox Church – but an almost endless Orthodox Church.

Having written a week or so back about the Christian life lived in a one-storey universe, I am reminded of that Church in my dream. It was certainly a one-storey Church – and yet it constantly opened up into place after place.

This week I am studying the painting (or writing if you prefer) of icons. They are often called “windows to heaven.” In the Church of my dream, or certainly within the metaphor it has left in my heart, I also think of them as doors to another room. Each saint, each icon of Christ or of the Theotokos, opens not just to heaven, but to ever deeper rooms within the world in which we inhabit. To spend time with an icon is not to visit some other place only to return to where you were before, but is to enter another room though you never left where you were. The world is changed, enlarged. What seemed small and insignificant is suddenly expanded and filled with meaning. The finite is filled with the infinite and becomes inexhaustible.

I remember waking from my dream years ago, and aching with a hunger for something I could not name. But I know now that it was a hunger for heaven – and not for a heaven somewhere else, but for heaven on earth – which in Orthodox dogma – is indeed the Church.