Our church has no crying room, so parents with fidgety, exuberant or otherwise discomfiting youngsters have to be creatively calming in the pews or parents must choose self-exile to the vestibule. One young father, with a teary, backward-facing toddler hoisted to his shoulder, stumbled on a solution. Standing in the aisle between the end of the pew and the wall, dad turned to face the altar. Suddenly, the baby girl fell silent, her gaze locked onto the eyes that stared back at her from the nearest stained glass window: those of Therese of Lisieux.
Then dad turned around, perhaps to see what his little girl was looking at. The spell was broken. A cry was uttered. The toddler pointed back at St. Therese and dad complied. Again content, the child renewed her silent eye-to-eye with the saint.
The little girl’s communion reminded me of my mother’s encounter with a saint. My mother was born and raised a Buddhist in Thailand. About a decade ago she started exhibiting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. She knew it, accepted it and with worried mind did all she could to prepare her family for the challenges ahead. It was during that time she told my dad of a dream she had of being on a near-empty strand with a river or the ocean nearby. The only other soul on the beach was a man with white hair. Mom said that while no words were spoken in the dream, the man told her his name was Clement and assured her that everything was going to be fine. That dream, that image brought her a great sense of peace and hope.
She related the dream to my dad and asked who this Clement might be. My dad was thunderstruck. St. Clement of Rome, a first century pope, was put to death by Emperor Trajan — tied to an anchor and drowned. The patron saint of mariners, Clement is often depicted with an anchor and in association with water. [Until then, Clement had never had a presence in a family that wears out the intercessory ears of Saints Anthony, Aquinas and More.] Why Clement? We will never know.
That incident rekindled my interest in how saints are depicted, especially in icons. A search led to a fellow blogger, Reinkat. An iconographer, Reinkat vividly describes the work: the inspiration, the prayers and struggles and most importantly, how the iconic can draw the faithful closer to the heart of God. Used to describe everything from movies, to celebrities and commercial logos, “iconic,” has lost its meaning. The beautiful works by Reinkat and others help return meaning and purpose to that which is spiritually iconic.
Which brings this post back to our church windows. These long, tall, jigsaw puzzles of colored glass and lead run from just above the floor to about seven or eight feet. They feature nearly life-sized images of saints whose larger-than-life examples inspire us. The beauty of these images is that while abstracted, they are at our level, almost as if they walk among us. They are reminders that the sainted too were real people. Flawed people. Frustrated people. Faithful people. They are people like us, who went beyond the ordinary, who lived and died in their convictions. And through the hands of artists, they draw us close.