Grandpa’s Icon

Written by: Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas | Posted on: | Category:

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The history of words fascinates me. Take the word “icon” for instance. Icon comes from the Greek eikon - "likeness, image, portrait; image in a mirror; a semblance, phantom image." (Online Etymology Dictionary) Who knew there were so many meanings?!

I had always understood an icon to be an image painted on wood (usually) of a figure or event of religious importance; a portrait of the Madonna and Child or a semblance of Jacob’s Ladder. The idea that an icon might be an “image in a mirror” or a “phantom image” fascinated me.

This fascination stems from my childhood. When I was a little girl, I would spend hours starring at an icon my grandfather had by the door of his room. Unlike some of the icons I have since seen in museums around the world, this is small, two and a half inches by three and a half inches. Not an original painting, but rather a print decoupaged on a small block wood, the painting was simply Jesus walking on the water.

Raised Roman Catholic, we were taught that we were to become reflections of Jesus to the world. As I meditated on this picture, I would wonder if I could ever reflect the calm, the assuredness of the face on the icon or was it only a phantom image of a being that lived many years before my time?

My grandfather died the year I was ten. I asked for the icon, placing it by the door of my room. In many ways, it became my connection to a man who taught me that no matter what you have, you can always share with others. A bit of meat, some vegetables, a potato or two can become a marvelous meal for many merely by adding a bit of water. However, now as I sit gazing at the icon on my bedroom wall, I realize it has become much more.

Grandpa’s icon is for me a touchstone to the calm, the peace I wish to share with the world. As I look into the face on the icon, I am transposed from the stresses of life to the all-encompassing calm of Spirit. This feeling might only last a few minutes, but it is there and with it, I gain the courage to continue my journey down the Path of Life.

Thus, Grandpa’s icon has become both a portrait of the man we call Jesus as well as an image in a mystical mirror, reflecting what lies deep within and reminding me that I, too, am able to embody that peace and calm found only in Spirit.

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