by Elizabeth Wolterink, Youth Group Leader
How many of you played Lent Madness? While we were all playing and learning about our spiritual forbearers, the High School Youth Group has been taking their saintly studies a step further. During Lent, each student chose a saint and has been learning about them while creating an icon of that individual. Icon writing (icons are always “written,” not “painted”) and veneration has been a traditional prayer practice in Eastern Christianity for millennia. An icon differs from an idol in that it is a prayer and worship tool, not an object of worship itself. Saints are the heroes of our tradition and icons of them inspire contemplation and emulation of their faith in action. The act of writing an icon can also be a contemplative prayer. Brush-strokes and breath become united as something honoring God is created.
The breadth and variety of saints that the youth have chosen is fascinating. I don’t want to tell you who they are or what their stories are because the students are writing descriptions and will be displaying their work in the next few weeks. I can tell you that the icons being written are of canonized and folk saints, ancient and modern, contemplative and activist, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, male and female, human and non-human. Part of the lesson in these choices is that we all have it in us to be saints. The expressions of our relationships with God might be quiet or dynamic. They might be seen in our intellects or our service or our sacrifices. Somewhere among the enormous corpus of saints is someone like you – someone who might inspire you because something in their life or experience speaks to you. This is one of the mystical meanings of the ancient Greek word mimesis – the deep stirring of the soul when it recognizes itself in another. This is also part of the power of icons: to trigger that deep soul-stirring which is not just a recognition of similarity with another, but a spiritual remembrance of our true nature as children of God. But the mimetic power of saints does not only work by looking back. Part of its beauty is that just as you might recognize and be inspired by one of the hundreds of saints, somewhere among the family of Christ someone might recognize and be inspired by you.
When they are complete, the youth icons will be blessed by a special prayer during the 10:00 service and displayed in the hallway between the Commons and the Parish Hall. The group is excited to share them with you and we hope that you will participate in our own little contest by reading the signs about each icon and choosing the one you think is the most “saintly” individual. Ballots and a voting jar will be available on a small table under the tract rack. If anyone is interested in learning more about icon making or writing their own icons, I highly recommend the book we used, A Brush with God: An Icon Workbook by Peter Pearson.