These archetypal figures loom from the great reality, from the magnum mysterium, to…encourage, spur and fortify us on our way
At the Ikon Museum, Frankfurt, on my way south to the Black Forest. I happened upon the museum while walking off a long flight. Actually I thought it was the “Kon Museum” when I first saw the sign, and wondered what kind of collection it had. Then understood that I had missed the initial “I”.
15th to 19th century Russian icons. Some too complicatedly theological for a heathen to gain much purchase. Then I spotted a little stone staircase in a corner of the old hall, and thought: that looks interesting.
Upstairs, I happened upon what perhaps I had come for. First, a bare simple picture, clearly old, of Christ’s head, very Orthodox-looking: a triangular beard, and eyes that were glaring, glowing, unavoidable. I almost didn’t want to look.
Then: three simple portraits in a triptych: The Mother of God, Jesus and John the Baptist, side by side. Each stared a little down and to one side, the gaze full of deep caring, of suffering and forbearance, and forgiveness – but also sternness, like: don’t mess around, get on with the real task. Spread the Word. Spread the love. Help.
These were figures staring clean out of the archetypal realm. I realized that although I don’t really understand or relate so much to the idea of God as an “other”, as some kind of being out there, I do get some sense of the great beauty, the wonder, the groundedness of this long tradition of worship, of honoring, of awe and reverence. It occurred to me that the first discovery of “it” – of who we really are – that I went through was like finding an “other” reality. It’s just that the greatest wonder of it was to realize that “it” was in fact “me.” That “it” was who and what I had been all along, without my realizing it. And that “it” was worthy of any amount of praise, adoration, reverence and reorientation, so that one’s life could become a living out of that fact.
Back then, I had no idea at all how to make living it a reality. Even now, after finding the Zen way, I still fall far short of doing that as thoroughly as I’d like. Yet I am trying, and do feel that I am sluggishly proceeding on a well-worn path to doing so.
These archetypal figures loom from the great reality, from the magnum mysterium, to help us along, to encourage, spur and fortify us on our way. Thanks be to them!