Marc Riboud, the French photography, once said, "Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second." This quote always makes me think of my paternal grandmother. She was, by no means, a professional photographer, but she loved taking pictures. She savored life intensely by taking pictures. In fact, I can still hear the sound of her Polaroid camera and see the flash as she would capture pictures of her family and friends. She literally had hundreds of photo albums and even categorized them by family members and dates. She loved taking photographs. She savored life intensely through her Polaroid camera.
One of my favorite television shows is still old reruns of Frasier. I love Dr. Frasier Crane and one of my all time favorite episodes is when Frasier's father, Martin Crane, discovers his old flash camera or, as his son, Niles describes it, "the most blinding 15 pound camera ever produced by the former soviet union."
Now, my grandmother's flash was not as overwhelming, but certainly her enthusiasm for taking pictures was just as great as Martin's. She savored life intensely through her Polaroid camera.
In his letter to the Colossians, the writer gives us a picture of Christ - a photograph, if you will. Perhaps, like me, you can see the brightness of the flash in your mind's eye through the writer's descriptive words. Interestingly enough, in the early centuries of Christianity, when the church was really struggling with who they were and what they believed, amid a myriad of beliefs, interpretations and opinions, these words helped shape early church creeds. They served as the basis of what early believers were told to profess and believe. Because these words expressed the sovereignty of Christ. They served to give a picture of who Christ was and is.
I grew up in a church tradition that did not have a set creed or doctrine. Instead, I was taught, as I still believe today, that one's faith and understanding of God is experienced individually. Now, obviously, this understanding and experience is influenced and shaped along the way. I believe that creeds, professions of faith, dogmas and doctrines only limit God - restricting and bounding God from being God. These anthropomorphic and religious ideologies only serve to place God and faith in a neatly, convenient, and comfortable box. For me, my faith and understanding of God was and is experienced individually. At the same time, I am thankfully for influences along the way - those saints in my life, the scriptures (both canonical and non-canonical), the sacraments, traditions of the Church and other religious teachings and traditions.
Certainly, as Christians our understanding of God comes in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ we see God. Now, this can and does have a variety of meanings. But the writer tells us in verse 19 of Colossians 1, "The fullness of God dwells in him." This word "fullness" in the Greek is the word πλήρωμα [pleroma] which implies, "that which is filled up" and "dwells" in the Greek is κατοικῆσαι [katoikeo] meaning "to reside" or "to house". "The fullness of God dwells in him," which is the say "all that is of God resides in Christ." He is the picture of God!
Now, does this mean that we only see God in Christ? Of course not! I believe we see and experience God in many ways, shapes and forms. Both secular and religious. I believe there are other faces to God outside of the Christian influence and teaching.
But as the writer reminds "the fullness of God dwells in him" - Jesus is the image of the invisible God! He gives a face to God. The word "image" here in verse 15 is the Greek word εἰκών [eikon], which is where our English word "icon" comes from. Eikon literally means, "image," "likeness," or "portrait".
He is the "firstborn of all creation". This is what the author was implying in I Corinthians 15:45, "So the first man, Adam, as scripture says, became a living soul, and the last Adam has become a life-giving spirit." As we are reminded in II Corinthians 3:18, "[Therefore] all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory." Jesus is the ideal picture of humanity. As we are reconciled to God we become more and more like Christ. We become the icon - the face of God in the world.
Since I was young, I have had a fascination and interest in icons. I am not sure why, but I have found these ancient pictures that seek to capture the face, heart, and passion of Christ, his life and people interesting. Icons are pictures used by believers to help focus their heart on God.
I will never forget what a friend of mine, who is an Eastern Orthodox priest, had to say when someone made reference to the many icons displayed in the church he pastored. He asked, "Do you display pictures of your loved ones on the walls in your home?" When the man nodded his head yes, my friend replied, "Well, in the same way, we display these pictures/icons of the one(s) we love in God's house!"
Perhaps you are familiar with Nathaniel Hawthorne's, The Great Stone Face, which tells the story of a rock formation that resembled a human face. Legend had it that a truly great man, resembling the great stone face, would come to the nearby town. One boy made it his passion and goal to set out to find that person. He would study the great stone face and then search for a face that resembled the rock face. He did this for so long that as he matured he began to resemble the face until he became the great stone face.
We too begin to look like God - the Rock of Ages; we begin to reflect God's image and likeness in the world as we spend time looking into and studying the face of God.
John Wesley describes the face of God as "means of grace." "Means of grace" are those "means" by which God speaks to us, becomes real, present and known to us.
I love the story of the drunk who happened to stumble along a baptism service on Sunday afternoon down by a river. The drunk proceeds to walk down into the water to get a closer look, as he inched closer and closer out of curiosity, before he realized it he was in the line of those desiring to be baptized. Before he knew it, he was standing next to the preacher. The minister turns and notices the old drunk and says, "Sir, are you ready to see Jesus?" The drunk says, "Yes sir!" The minister proceeds to dunk him under the water and in a few seconds pulls him right back up. "Have you seen Jesus?" the preacher asked. "No!" said the drunk. The preacher then dunks him under for a little longer, raises him back up and says, "Now, have you seen Jesus?" Again, the drunk replies, "No!" The preacher in disgust dunks the drunk back under the water and holds him down for an even longer period of time and finally raises him up out of the water and says in a harsh tone, "have you seen Jesus?" The drunk, gasping for air, and says to the preacher, "No, I haven't, are you sure he fell in here?"
Have you seen Jesus? How and where do you see Jesus? Where are those "thin places" as the Celtics spoke of where you see the face of God and experience God's presence? How and where do you see Jesus? Everyone sees and experiences God differently and in different ways. But, perhaps the more important question is, how do you reflect Jesus?
At the beginning of this blog, I included a picture of an icon. This is a icon within a collection from Bulgaria which have been defaced. I find these defaced icons fascinating because, I believe they remind us that we are to be the face of Christ in the world. We are to be an icon of God - picture, photograph or portrait of God int he world. We are to reflect Christ's light, love, grace, compassion and mercy. "All of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory" (II Corinthians 3:18). Have you seen Jesus? How do you reflect Jesus?