Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
We all have heard the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” This idiom derives from a German proverb, das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten. The earliest record of this phrase was used in 1512 in Narrenbeschwörung by Thomas Murner.
In medieval times in Europe, Germany in particular, peasants and laborers bathed only once a year. When they did, the oldest person in the family will go first and so on down until the baby bathed the last. By the time the baby took the bath, the water was pitch-black and dirty enough that an infant could be lost in it. Therefore, this idiom means don’t discard something valuable along with something undesirable.
The Protestant Reformation was a religious reform movement that swept through Europe in the 1500s in reaction to all that were wrong and corrupt about the Roman Catholic Church at the time. It resulted in the creation of a branch of Christianity called Protestantism. Therefore, protestant means the one who protests. Consequently, in their reaction and aversion to anything that was Catholic, they rejected pretty much 1400 years Christian tradition. And icons suffered the same fate from the Protestant Reformation.
It is natural for people to resist when something new is introduced when it is unfamiliar and strange. Wei Wu Wei the 7th century Chinese sage said, “Our devotees are quite enamored with the teacup. So much so that they have forgotten to drink the tea from it.” Unfortunately, religious people get stuck on the outer form of their religion and never get to experience the spiritual essence of their faith.
As Methodists, we adhere to core teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodist movement, such as the doctrine of grace and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. John Wesley offered us the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience, as resources to utilize for discerning God’s truth. “Tradition” in Wesley’s mind is all that are handed down to us from the dawning of Christianity from writings and teachings of saints, mystics, and theologians and the legacy of rituals and practices. Here is where I would argue that icons are to be salvaged because they are another valuable tool that offers us a window through which we can access the divine.
I’m super excited to finally hold The Service of Dedication of Icons on Sunday, July 17th. I have been drawn to icons for over three decades. They have deepened and affected my formation of spiritual development. You will have a chance to see and experience carefully selected 8 iconic icons and 2 paintings by Christopher Santer of Jesus with children and youth based on the scripture from Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to me, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” The Pajaronian reporter, Johanna Miller, will do a writeup for the paper.
It is my prayer that these icons will transform our worship space into a sacred space. Stained glass windows, during the medieval time when most people were illiterate, taught people the stories of the bible and key events in the life of Jesus. Similarly, icons teach us, esp. to our children and young people, about the important key events of Jesus and their significant meanings that shape our Christian faith.
The worship experience is enriched when all our senses are activated and engaged. Unfortunately, there is a sensory deprivation in the Protestant worship. It has basically reduced to solely the exercise of the mind. Evagrius of Pontius, the 4th century ascetic Christian monk from the coast of Asia Minor wrote, “God cannot be grasped by the mind. If God could be grasped by the mind, God would not be God.” We all have heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And it does. All those who gaze upon these icons will be subliminally affected. In the world of icons, there is a saying, “You become what you gaze upon.” Icons are spiritual images that affect us powerfully that draws us closer to God in a mystical way, beyond words and through direct, immediate experience. Icon is a portal through which we enter and see and experience the transcendent reality of God. Icons offer us windows through which we see and experience the divine.
In addition, icons keep us honest. When we veer from our faith, icons pull us back to the foundation of Christian faith and core tenets of Jesus’ teaching. Being a progressive church, it is easy to get busy caught up on doing things and accomplishing things in church projects and social actions. There is nothing wrong with it. However, we can lose our way by forgetting the original source that gave us the impetus and the mandate given by God through Christ. There is a danger of losing the distinction between nonprofits and the church. Icons help us to become contemplation in action. Without contemplation, we are just reacting instead of responding. The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for right action, which always proceeds from a contemplative silence.
Happy 4th folks! Have a safe and celebratory Independence Day.
With much love in Christ,
I want to draw you attention to Dr. Haley Feuerbacher who will offer a two-part sermon series “Good + Grief”. It’s on a topic that she talks about a lot at CCC (Center for Courageous Compassion) that she believes is apropos for these times: grief.
On Sunday, June 26, the title of her sermon will be “Good + Grief: Grieve to Heal” and it draws upon Matthew 14:13-25. This sermon will be focused on the value of grieving and the need to empower and trust others in our community to fill in our gaps so we can pause and take those sacred moments to grieve.
On Sunday, July 3, Dr. Haley Feuerbacher will deliver the second part of her mini-sermon series “Good + Grief: Faith After Uvalde” using the text John 11:1-7, 12-46. This sermon will be focused less on the ones grieving and more on how to courageously support those who are grieving and go into the grief-stricken places together, following Christ’s example at Lazarus’ tomb.