The Icon Corner: A Perfect Imperfection

icon corner

Our icon corner is a beautiful mess.

I’m a neat freak. I like everything in its place and want an orderliness to most everything I do. I Because of this, God has blessed me with a wife and daughter that are slowly teaching me the beauty to be found in disorder.

I’m not saying they’re messy. At least not while there’s a chance either of them are reading this.

While we were still in the early stages of our journey to Orthodoxy, I fell in love with iconography. Eventually I decided it was time we set up an icon corner.

It had to be done just right, naturally, so I insisted on doing all the work. With my then-fiancée taking her daughter to a birthday party, I zig-zagged across town to every craft store, furniture outlet and hardware megastore in town looking for all the materials I would need.

When I returned home I started putting together a shelf, setting up an oil lamp, and drilling holes into a corner wall I’d picked especially for this project. Everything had to be just perfect.

When my theological home improvement project was complete, I carefully arranged everything just so. I ceremoniously placed an icon of Christ purchased from our church bookstore upon the shelf. Then I filled the candle holder with olive oil and lit the beeswax wick. The flame glowed and light refracted in a hundred directions from the bevels of a crystal globe, sending a warm light across the icon.

I placed our Orthodox Study Bible on the table underneath the shelf, moving it a few times to get it perfectly centered. It was, after all, an ornament to be viewed, not an actual book to be studied.

Right?

As chief architect of our icon corner, I was also the self-appointed keeper of the flame. I was in charge of the olive oil and wicks for the lamp, maintaining things so a constant flame emitted a warm glow throughout the nights and into the daytime hours.

My duties as caretaker and my impulses as a neat freak led me to adjust something nearly every time I walked by the icon corner. I also made sure nothing was placed on the table that didn’t belong there. This wasn’t a place for car keys or a stray sock.

As time has passed we have bought or been given several more icons. They hang on the wall and sit on the table, and there are several more I still want to buy. Multiple prayer books are stacked alongside the Bible. Frayed palm and pussy willow branches lie on the table and add to the increasing disorder.

As I passed by it last night, I noticed how unkempt the table was. And I didn’t do a thing about it.

Our icon corner is not the shrine I originally created. It is a place where we pray. It is a window into heaven, and a slowly-expanding chronicle of our family’s journey toward Christ. To be sure, it’s still not a place to drop our car keys. But it isn’t surrounded by a velvet rope, either. It is being used.

Orthodoxy is very much like this. Orthodoxy is lived-in. Though the doctrine remains unchanged, the place where the people gather to worship is sometimes a place of disorder. People walk back and forth to venerate icons. Children play on the floor as their parents pray. We are doing the work of Liturgy, and sometimes work is messy.

The Church is not preserved inside a glass case. It is dragging behind it centuries of culture, custom and chaos. It is historical. It is the keeper of the Word of God. It is alive today as it was from the beginning.

It is a beautiful mess.


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