Here is the thirteenth century Byzantine icon of Our Lady of Intercession found in the Basilica of Sant' Alessio in Rome.
Mary seems to be in a hurry. Perhaps the angel of the Annunciation has just left her, and having thrown on her patterned maphorion, she speeds off on foot, and with happy news, to see her elder relative, Elizabeth. (Luke 1: 39-40).
But wherever Mary is hurrying to, it seems she has stopped abruptly, long enough to turn and look at me directly. She stands full-faced with her eyes locked on my own, clearly inviting me into intimacy.
The icon's golden background tells me Mary is making this contact from an eternal place. Her enlightening message comes to me from beyond. Indeed, that Mary's head seems too big and that a golden band, framing her face and accenting her forehead, echos the eternal background, suggests she is thinking other or extra-worldly thoughts.
Mary's eyes are large; she is wide awake to invisible realities, divine things, or the things that matter most. Perhaps she sees or perceives what I might be missing, however much time I spend investigating, looking around or checking things out.
Her nose is long and slender; she senses from beyond us. Her de-emphasized and small mouth suggests that she stands in the light as more inclined to listening than speaking, that she has transcended carnal or earthly things. Those of us who live in the overfed parts of an often hungry world might pay particular attention to this aspect of her face.
With her right hand Mary seems to be waving to me. What a lovely thought is this: heaven has stopped to acknowledge me! God knows and cares that I exist. In a bad-news world, God offers me some very personal good news, announcing, "I have called you by name; you are mine," (Isaiah 43:1). I can pray, simply holding this thought as I gaze at the icon of the Mother of God, who greets me with a wave.
But there is more, because the opening of hands and the raising up of arms, is a prayer-gesture in many religions. Intercession means praying for someone else. Many people ask for the prayers of others, especially when there are difficult problems, challenges or troubles. In this icon of Our Lady of Intercession, Mary seems to be looking deeply into my own inner life where I'm struggling, fearful, burdened, weary or confused, and there she prays with me, alongside me and even for me.