Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mother of God ~ Lightness

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,
encapsulated in 


  1. You open my mind to new thoughts. Looking towards the light and search for the pearls that life offers.

  2. Everything about this is beautiful.

  3. Light is giving up resentment. You taught us to free our thoughts that keep us from a closeness to God. I still carry the prayer in my wallet.

  4. Guess lightness is the feeling, I want to have. Mary's inner beauty radiates in this icon. If, we pray her rosary faithfully, I bet this lightness will fill up in us.

  5. I think lightness is more the personal growth and change than a feeling. And as model or first disciple - Mary indicates not what she has a corner on but what's possible for each of us. I think as well, that even to hold the rosary is a prayer. Hold the rosary and look at the icon in silence. The mind is fixed, even without words or thoughts, fixed in observation. That's a meditation.

    1. This icon of Mary does create a sharing of friendship. Her eyes seem to be aware of me. Its kind of awesome. Glad, you picked this one or maybe the Holy Spirit had a hand in this.

    2. I was in a seminary bookstore and there was a table with "freebies". There was a stack of these icon cards and they had been poorly printed: the border out of whack and the fold off center. So I picked her up and it quickly became clear to me that she ought to be shared.

    3. Maybe that was the Holy Spirit at work through you Father Stephen. To share this beautiful icon with all of us. She looks perfect to me.

  6. Well, my techno-support friend patched her up - giving her a new border and a little tweek here and there. After the collapse of the Soviet Union storerooms filled with icons were discovered - just waiting to be returned to the Church and to be shown again to the people.