In preparation for an upcoming event at St. Alban’s, Expressions of Faith; A Creative Retreat, I’m re-reading a book that was given to me on the occasion of my ordination to the priesthood. The book is Pavel Florensky’s Iconostasis.
Pavel Florensky, born in 1882, was a philosopher, theologian and scientist who became an Orthodox priest in 1911. In the midst of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Fr. Pavel was a leading voice in Russia’s great movement in religious philosophy, a movement that was violently destroyed by the Soviets in the 1920’s & 1930’s. Fr. Pavel was silenced in 1922 and after ten years of forced work as a scientist for the Soviet regime was arrested on false charges, imprisoned and murdered by a KGB directive in 1937.
Iconostasis, written in 1922, is book about the significance of icons but it’s also about dreams and about philosophy and theology. After an introduction that deals with the spiritual structure of dreams a section called Spiritual Sobriety and the Iconic Face posits: “What is true of art and dream is also true of mystical experience.” The soul is raised up from the visible to the invisible and then back again to the visible, where ideas appear:
“What we say about the dream holds true (with minor changes) about any movement from one sphere to another. In creating a work of art, the psyche or soul of the artist ascends from the earthly realm into the heavenly; there, free of all images, the soul is fed in contemplation by the essences of the highest realm, knowing the permanent noumena of things; then, satiated with this knowing, it descends again to the earthly realm. And precisely at the boundary between two worlds, the soul’s spiritual knowledge assumes the shapes of symbolic imagery: and it is these images that make permanent works of art. Art is thus materialized dream, separated from the ordinary consciousness of waking life.”
To me this sounds a lot like what can happen to any of us in any church service. Through the proclamation and preaching of Word and Sacrament our souls rise from the visible world (the complexity, the demands, the boredom and the joys of work & relationships that constitute our earthly life) to the invisible (to the dream that Jesus called the Kingdom of God). And then they return to the visible world where both the visible and invisible intersect: to where ideas and images appear; ideas and images of entering more fully into God’s dream about realizing on earth the things already realized in heaven. How many times have you left a church service inspired to imagine yourself as a different kind of image? An image created in the likeness of God… But soon forgotten the dream?
On Saturday, October 17, we will gather at Persimmon Ridge Farm (if you are a parishioner connected to St. Alban’s Church check today’s e-mail) to playfully but reverently let our spirits rise and fall while we make personal icons. We’re not gathering as trained artists but rather as people with souls; as people trying to materialize the dream… and make it more permanent.