In her book, Penguins and Golden Calves, Madeleine L'Engle describes what she means by an icon: "I am not thinking of the classic definition of the icons so familiar in the orthodox church, icons of Christ, the Theotokos, saints, painted on wood and often partially covered with silver. My personal definition is much wider, and the simplest way I can put it into words is to affirm that an icon, for me, is an open window to God...something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God's demands on us...than I would otherwise. . . . We usually think of icons as corrupt images which ought to be broken. But it is only the icon misused [an idol] that needs breaking. A true icon is not a reflection; it is a metophor, a differnet, unlike look at something, and carries within it something of that at which it looks."
While some within Christianity have avoided symbolism, recognizing the impossibility of ever fully representing the fullness of God, I find myself drawn to these attempts to open the windows of my mind and heart to truth far greater that anything I could ever really understand. I have several items that serve as icons in this way for me.
Near the beginning of our adoption process (that seems so long ago!), our family made bracelets with three beads. They represent Romans 12:12 for us. The colored bead symbolizes joyfulness in hope, the black bead symbolizes patience in affliction, and the clear bead symbolizes faithfulness in prayer. I have been wearing my bracelet for over two years. There are times when I find myself fingering a particular bead (perhaps inadvertently at first), and I am brought into connection with my God who provides hope, strength, comfort, and perfect love.
Another icon for me is a small silver bell necklace. It was given to me by a friend from our church in Maine. For me, it represents many things: the love of the giver (causing me to rejoice and reminding me to pray for her), the particular community of believers from which it came (causing me to be thankful and to pray for that local church), and the life of the Spirit. You see, whenever I wear it, this tiny silver bell jingles ever so lightly and beautifully as I move throughout my day. I find myself continually rejuvenated with the knowledge of the Spirit's presence--moving, working, making new and beautiful creation, in and through my day, my life, my world.
Quite a while ago, Abby was doing some crafty projects involving paper, scissors, glitter glue, etc. After a while, she came to me with a plain white piece of paper and asked me to cut it into "just a cross." As I reached for the paper and scissors, I asked her what she wanted to do with the cross.
"Hang it on my bed so that I think of Jesus when I wake up in the morning."
We Tappers need our simple icons.