THIS MOTHER OF GOD ICON is of the Hodgetria type ~ Shower of the Way, though the iconographer has done two notable things that might allow us to give her our own title. Her maphorion (mantle) is particularly voluminous and is the color of clay. With us, she is of the earth. We notice too that the edge of the mantle and veil are trimmed in a double band of pearls. Even her cuff is decorated. But as Eastern Icons are not interested in simply representing earthly events, as if a photographer told Mary to dress up for her portrait, the icon wants to communicate the spiritual reality that is before our eyes. In other words, I'd venture the pearls mean something.
Indeed, in the study of symbology pearls can mean simply lightness. Mary is wrapped in lightness. Better yet, Mary IS lightness. This doesn't mean gravity defying but filled with light - enlightened - of light. Isn't this what's symbolized when at Baptism the priest handed off a lighted candle to us?
Father Alexander Schmemann, reflecting on secularism and worship, holds that a secular culture is not necessarily a God-denying culture but a culture that no longer worships. Worship is not synonymous with Church going, as we might wonder how much real worship goes on in some churches - priests who are un-prepared and in a terrible hurry, parishioners who won't pick up a hymnal and are out the door in a stampede. But worship has more to do with being responsive to God who is always the initiator. Admittedly this will be an unpopular theology today - lots of people reject any idea of being surrendered or in a servant role This initiation-response is modeled in the Annunciation account of Saint Luke's Gospel. There's Mary's lightness. She isn't divine, but she is filled with a pearl-like lightness born of response.
Indeed, an oyster creates the pearl but first the oyster has to be invaded by a little sand grain around which the pearl is produced. Some irritant must be introduced. God is a comforter but also a disturber. God can be an irritant, prod-er or initiator, the one who upsets my status quo, my comfortable and planned out inner Nazareth. "Come on now, produce something lovely and lustrous," God might say.
- Lightness is compassion.
- Lightness is creativity.
- Lightness is a changed mind where I'd been previously unyielding.
- Lightness is generosity.
- Lightness is a change in my politics born of the Gospels.
- Lightness is giving up a long-nurtured grudge.
- Lightness is trusting that in the end all shall be well.
- Lightness is clarity of purpose or direction.
- Lightness is coming clean.
- Lightness is accepting myself before God's loving gaze.
- Lightness is the peace of inner healing.
- Lightness is joy and energy restored.
- Lightness is surrendered anxieties.
- Lightness is a kind of de-materializing in a world of too much stuff.
The departing angel
dressed you in pearls,
O Bride of God,