My good friend, Aly Sousa, has been on a journey of discovery with God. Although it has been uncomfortable at times, she is growing in freedom and love. In fact, if I were to describe Aly to someone who doesn't know her, I would say the one outstanding attribute about Aly is that she loves people. I feel privileged to call her my friend. Recently, she wrote a short paper on Idols vs Icons. I invited her to share her story here on my blog, as my first guest blogger. So without further ado, Aly Sousa!
What is the difference between an idol versus an icon? An idol is commonly viewed as an image or other material object involved in religious worship. However, this is not how the dictionary defines it. According to Webster’s, an idol is a mere image or semblance of something, visible, but without substance, as a phantom; any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion!
There is also something very static, un-moving, and unchanging about an idol. Sadly, we mirror what we worship, don’t we? In all honesty, the idols in my own life have only served to keep me stuck, and frustrated at my own fixed ways of seeing, of hearing, of believing, of thinking, and of relating, never really knowing how to simply rest and be loved. The biggest idol in my life had become the Bible. It is only in the last few years however, that I have even become aware of this. What is even more heart breaking is that this idolatry was modeled in the various churches I was a part of for so many years! Quite simply, I was taught that the language of the Bible was not only the only language, but that its words are the final authority on earth! I was taught that the Bible itself possessed the very essence and nature of God!
Thankfully, there have been moments over the years that God mercifully broke through, when my learned concepts of Him drew me closer, when my ideas pointed me beyond myself to the greater reality— Him! But there was little to no value placed on my gazing, on simply beholding and resting in Him, in His love, or on experiencing Him emotionally in any way that would actually allow me to linger or like Andre Rabe has said, “to continue to behold and gaze until we discover another gaze more intently focused on us.” These moments I am speaking of most often happened in times of hardship, and suffering, experiences in my life that I have written about here; bittersweet times when I met this God whose essence won’t be bound by concepts or ‘abstract theories’, where indeed, I experienced “the complete and utter failure of my own intellect.”
Icons, on the other hand, stoke up curiosity and desire to go beyond and to discover more. They can be representations of something or someone that resembles similarity and even likeness just enough that we want to explore further. But, like C.S. Lewis said, “They are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” Stupid idols wreck havoc on the hearts of their worshipers, and I was no exception! I was taught to relate to a book, to words on a page, with little to no importance placed on an encounter with a person, either the person of Jesus, or persons made in His image and likeness. It’s the difference between reading a book about making love to one’s spouse, and actually making love to my husband! It is only now that I am awakening to the implications of the incarnation, the idea of my solidarity with all who are made in His image and likeness and our shared humanity! As I awake to the vast possibilities of Him in all of humanity; each one I encounter, a person who uniquely reflects parts of His nature, oh what beauty excites. When I think about what endless opportunities there are to discover, to relate to, to mine, the beauty and the depths of Him in others, I am undone!
The paradox of beauty is that it simultaneously captures and eludes us. “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them,” says Lewis because “it was not in them, it only came through them and what came through them was longing. These things, the beauty, are good images of what we really desire.”
In conclusion, I want to say this, even as one who has had firsthand experience: idols are not real! John Nash, the mathematical genius who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994 and whose struggle with mental illness (schizophrenia) was documented in the Oscar-winning film, A Beautiful Mind, was a man so obsessed with numbers, so disconnected and disassociated, that he believed at one time that the New York Times published coded messages from extraterrestrials that only he could read! In this movie, Alicia says to her delusional husband John, “Do you want to know what is real? This. (She places her hand on his head) This. (She takes his hand and places it on her head) This. This is real! (She takes his hand and places it on her heart). “This is what is real…the love we already exist in.” She continues, “Maybe the part that knows the waking from the dream isn’t here. (She places her hand on his head) Maybe, it’s here!” (She moves her hand from his head to his heart)
Though mental institutions and electroshock therapy failed to cure him, even after more than thirty years, it seems that love did. After seeing the movie again and doing a little bit of research, I learned that John Nash and his wife died last May in a car crash. It was said of him, “Like a child cured of a nightmare by the switch of a light, Nash recovered from his illness seemingly by choosing not to be sick anymore. ‘I emerged,’ Nash wrote, ‘from irrational thinking, ultimately, without medicine other than the natural hormonal changes of aging.’”
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, John Nash said this about the love of his wife, “I’ve always believed in numbers, in equations, in logic that leads to reason. But, after a lifetime in such pursuits, I ask, ‘What truly is logic? Who decides reason?’ My quest has taken me through the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional, and back! I have made the most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reasons can be found! I am only here because of you. You are the reason I am! You are all my reasons…”