Thursday, July 9, 2009

Icons: Windows to the Truth

George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic has served as an excellent addition to my summer reading list. His reflection on Chartres Cathedral in France explicates the human yearning toward beauty, found in its highest form in God Himself. Weigel writes, “Beautiful things and beautiful music draw us out of ourselves and into an encounter with a truth that’s beyond us, yet accessible to our senses.” His words articulate the purpose served by Byzantine icons, an integral component of Eastern Orthodoxy. Says Weigel, “…We don’t merely look at icons; we look through them and discover ourselves engaged with the Truth the iconographer has written.”

This summer has brought about the death of another sort of icon. I refer to Michael Jackson. Taken in a different context, the term “icon” describes a man who experienced simultaneously the height of fame and fortune and the depths of loneliness. Whether the word can be used aptly to describe such a figure as the King of Pop is an enigma. According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons serve as a direct link to the heavenly realm, a method of communication with the Divine. Perhaps no connection can be made, without blasphemy, between the moving, nearly sacramental experience of iconography and the fanaticism underlying devotion to “icons” like Jackson.

However, one has only to go back once again to Weigel’s letters. His description of beauty as a guide to a “truth that’s beyond us, yet accessible to our senses” shows us that icons draw us outside ourselves. The existence of something not fully comprehensible to the human mind is both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Yet it is only by reaching towards that which is greater than our understanding that we progress on our journey towards God.

I do not suggest that Michael Jackson’s music be categorized with Byzantine icons as a form of true Beauty. However, the musical pieces of Jackson and other cultural icons could be considered attempts to grasp the incomprehensible. Unfortunately, all too often those attempts are misguided, leaving us with the body of a tragically twisted former pop star buried without his brain (

1 comment:

Kevin Donohue said...

I think MJ's death is certainly an interesting examination of society's fascination and veneration of these larger-than-life figures. I wonder how many more people watched the funeral - and its attending coverage - than went to Church?