Have You Ever Wondered Why We Have Icons, Statues, and Stained-Glass Windows in our Church?
Last month, we reflected on a specific piece of religious art in our church: the ox that is tiled into the floor of our gathering space. This month we will take a step back and reflect on why we have religious art in general.
It is not uncommon to find statues, icons, or stained-glass windows in an Episcopal Church. Some Episcopal churches may have less art than others, but religious art is commonplace in our tradition. In the history of the church, there have been debates and disagreement about the role of religious art. Some thought it laid the foundation for idolatry, while others have held that good religious art can lift our minds and hearts to God. In the Orthodox Tradition, for example, religious icons are seen as “windows to heaven.”
As Christians in the Anglican Tradition, Episcopalians are sacramental people who relate to God through our senses. We are nourished by God’s redemptive love through bread and wine in the Eucharist. We feel Christ’s claiming embrace through the waters of baptism. We are filled with God’s peace and healing as we are anointed with oil when we are sick.
We use religious art in a sacramental sense as well. We use religious art not as an end in itself (an idol), but rather to engage our senses and emotions in ways that direct our minds and hearts to God. Religious art at St. Luke’s helps draw our senses into God’s unfolding story of love and redemption.
The statue of Mary in the front of church invites us to reflect on the beautiful notion that God’s desire to walk with us was so deep that it led God to wrap Godself in skin and be born as one of us! The windows at St. Luke’s depict the central pieces of the life of Jesus. One could come to St. Luke’s and read the Gospel by pondering our windows! The icons of angels in our chapel of St. Michael and all Angels are windows to a deeper Mystery that lies at the heart of our lives and all life.
Next time you are at St. Luke’s, take some time to explore and ponder the religious art that fills our space. And, when you are not at St. Luke’s, take some time to reflect on the following questions:
- What piece of religious art at St. Luke’s or elsewhere do you identify most with? Why?
- If icons can be “windows to heaven,” what else in your life serves as a window to heaven?
- How might you be called to be an icon, or window to heaven, for others?