Home » From Victims of Iconolatry to Masters of Iconography
An iconoclast is defined as “one who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration; one who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.” With respect to the fulfillment of my spiritual work on Earth, I have felt it necessary to be something of an iconoclast, though I have not engaged in the more extreme behavior this word suggests, such as physically destroying religious images and attacking religious institutions. However, if there is to be anything approaching a genuine spirituality on Earth, in other words, a return to our innate, intuitive knowing of the truth of love, the icons that human beings have substituted for this spirituality need to be seriously examined.
Icons such as religious figures, holy books, sacred spaces, the Eucharist and assorted rites and rituals can be useful insofar as they point to or symbolize the Divine Reality. The problem is that human beings almost invariably turn these things into idols and worship them instead of the spiritual reality that they are intended to represent. A given religion’s icons are generally considered to be an indispensable means of connecting with God and are elevated to the status of divinity in and of themselves.
As such they are invested with what are imagined to be supernatural and magical powers. For example, in strict interpretation, the bread and the wine of the Eucharist are considered to be the actual body and blood of Jesus and are thought to spiritually empower those who ingest them. Another Christian icon is the crucifix, depicting Jesus hanging on the cross. This repugnant symbol is frequently used in exorcisms, imagining that it has the power to repel and subdue demons.
I submit that all of this is simply human imagination and superstition. The crucifix has no power in and of itself. If changes are observed in the presence of a crucifix or other symbol, it is because the icon has triggered the release of the innate creative power in an individual or group. The icon didn’t do it; it was simply a catalyst for either a divine or demonic discharge, recognizing that all demonic power is simply a distortion of the power of love.
The principal icon of Christianity is the figure of Jesus. It is imagined that when he was on Earth Jesus somehow transacted with God to sacrifice himself in payment for the sins of humanity. It is further thought that confessing Jesus as personal savior will allow individuals to avail themselves of this supposed benefit. In other words, the historical figure of Jesus has been made into an icon. It is thought that merely speaking his name or otherwise evoking his presence can bring comfort, healing and, of course, salvation.
Once again I submit that all of this is merely human imagination and fantasy that was crystallized into a salvation formula and theological system by the Apostle Paul and other early church leaders. Christians throughout history and even today have prayed to Jesus, and some have imagined they could channel Jesus. They are, in effect, praying to and seeking to commune with an icon and an idol of their own making, an icon that has no actual power or reality except what it borrows from the creative power of the believer. This iconolatry has its counterpart in other religions such as Islam and has not only kept much of the world in a state of illusion but has spawned untold conflict between competing religious icons.
“The kingdom of God is within you.” This is the truth of the matter. The Reality and the power of creation are within me and every individual, and while an icon such as Jesus or the Bible may be useful in reminding me of this fact, only I have the choice to activate this power. David Karchere, spiritual director of Sunrise Ranch, puts it this way: “I defy you to find any place in the four Gospels where Jesus Christ said, ‘Pray to me.’ He told us to pray to the Creator, who he spoke of as the Father—the creative power within you and within me. He taught us to access that, be that, and let the will of that be done in this Earth.”
I also applaud the perspective of Steven Dinan, CEO of the Shift Network: “The way in which Christianity has focused on deifying and worshipping Jesus and enshrining that in belief systems just doesn’t feel accurate or real to me. Instead of seeing Christ as a singular object of worship and obedience, I see Christing as the journey we are all on to marry soul and flesh, Spirit and substance. As we open more to the higher octave of our nature, we then become more permeable to the God-force that is at the core of our being. My sense is that Christianity as a whole has gotten a bit stuck in putting one truly remarkable, blessed and amazing man on too high of a pedestal for too long—forgetting perhaps that he said we would do what he did and more. We are all sparks of God that have forgotten our true identity.”
Identity is indeed the key. The world has long been in a state of collective amnesia. Identity has centered in an unreal self manufactured by the human mind perceiving itself as separate from the truth of being. All kinds of icons and idols have been used by this isolated self to approach the Divine, but identity remains in a state of separation. Once there has been an awakening to oneness, knowing ourselves as “sparks of God,” we no longer require icons to connect with Source; we activate the direct connection that is built in to the very fabric of our being, our unity with the very nature of God.
This does not mean that we necessarily dispense with all icons. In a state of transcendent identity with the Creator we can honor and venerate symbols and icons without turning them into idols and mistaking them for the Reality. Symbols can be useful in pointing to the divine and reminding us of our sacred connection to the Most High. In other words, in recovering our primal spirituality, we become masters of iconography, able to use icons at will with no danger of slipping into idolatry and thereby slipping out of direct relationship to Source.
Here on Sunrise Ranch there is a building called The Little Chapel, standing at the highest point in Eden Valley. It is considered to be a sacred space where community members often go to chant or hold other ceremonies. We also have an altar with a golden bowl on top of it in our main chapel. We have another building, The Sanctuary, where our attunement ministry is conducted. And we make ample use of the Bible and some other spiritual literature.
These are all icons. Do we worship these things? Do we attribute magic and supernatural power to these symbols? Do we slip into bibliolatry when using the Bible? Of course the answer is “no” to these questions. A sacred space or other icon may bring to conscious awareness our already existing connection with the divine but only we have the power to activate that connection.
And finally when it comes to that supreme icon, Jesus, we can deeply honor and even adore the magnificent spiritual being he represented on Earth. The beautiful example of his life and the profound teaching that he offered point compellingly to the Divine Reality with which he was so obviously connected.
Beholding this, we may be inspired to manifest our own Father within. For the plain fact is that Jesus is no longer here, either to pray to or to otherwise save us. The ball is in our hands. We are each our own savior, and the world for which we are responsible depends on us for salvation. Yes, this could be described as an immense responsibility. But we are divinely endowed with the very power of creation, and as Jesus himself said, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do.”
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