Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Christ Pantocrator

For years, my meditation practice has been on the apophatic side: without use of words or images.  Just resting in silence.  It seems to be my natural default mode of prayer.

Lately, however, I've felt a desire for a deeper relationship with Jesus in meditation.  A former spiritual director, Sarah of blessed memory, probably first put the idea in my head.  Growing up in a charismatic fundamentalist milieu, I am allergic to affective forms of prayer, distrustful of   the tendency of religion to emotionally manipulate people.  Good, cerebral Anglican that I became, I am suspicious of any form of religious "enthusiasm."

Yet, beneath the suspicion there lies a desire for the kind of heart to heart connection that energizes all true prayer.  My deepest yearning is to be in love with the Beloved.

So I pressed by small "b" beloved for an icon of Christ Pantocrator this Christmas.  "Isn't there ANYTHING else you want for Christmas?" I persevered, and he relented.  So now I find myself meditating on the beautiful icon that you see pictured here.  It is an image of the oldest extent icon of Christ Pantocrator (Almighty or All-Powerful or, more literally, Ruler of All), found in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai.  It dates from the sixth or seventh century.

Christ is holding a book of the Gospels in his left  hand, with his right hand forming the traditional gesture of teaching or blessing.  The two sides of his face depict very different expressions - almost as if two different people have been "photoshopped" into one image.  Some have suggested that the icon represents a theological point about the two natures of Christ, human and divine.  While that may be so, I find the incongruity arresting and oddly captivating.  There is something about the imperfection of the image that makes it somehow more accessible and even attractive.

Sitting with this icon is something of an experiment for me.  I feel SEEN as I meditate with it; not in an uncomfortable way.  Rather, there is a sense of being invited to bring all of myself to prayer - my body, my sensations, my emotions, my thoughts - and just offer it all up.  I am being given permission to show up as I am and allow my love for the Beloved to have full sway.

Now that is some Christmas gift.

1 comment:

Suzanne Arthur said...

I really appreciate your having shared this image. I see in Christ's expression sadness, acceptance, wisdom and serenity. Extraordinary to think about how ancient this icon is, and yet it seems to speak so sensitively the pain and dilemma of the postmodern person.

I practice meditating and engaging in inner dialogue with God in the first, second, and third person. Although I grew up in the Presbyterian tradition I rejected it for decades. Recently I've come back around to welcome a new relationship with the Divine in second-person (in the "I-Thou" relationship). I appreciate your honesty and your perspective.