Sunday, January 2, 2011

Icon, With Protein

When my book came out, nearly five years ago, I felt like Cinderella at the ball, magically transformed. My publisher sent me to a religious book convention; later, I wrote the following piece.

After fighting the Chicago area traffic to arrive five minutes late, after meeting the good people who helped my first book get into print (thus meeting four new people in five minutes, which is more than I would normally meet in a month!), after discovering that the time of book signings had been changed, so my tardiness didn’t matter, I was free to wander the exhibits. Six aisles of booths stocked with religious books and gifts were a bit overwhelming, and I suffered from stimulus overload. But then I saw him.
            Some publisher had chosen the Christus Pantocrator (Christ, ruler of all the world) icon to grace the cover of the book they were pitching. A larger-than-life poster of the icon hung in their booth. They’d also selected the rendition I loved best, the fourth century one from Mount Sinai. As in all versions of Christus Pantocrator—because icons are stylized forms—the figure carries a jewel-covered book in one hand and holds the other hand up in blessing. His face and halo are luminous, contrasting with his dark hair, beard, eyes, and garment. Behind him is an ancient cityscape and blue-gray sky.
            He was the first icon I’d ever loved, before I knew anything about icons, before I knew even that this was one that portrayed Christ. Something in his face. I stopped and just stared at the poster, trying to draw strength. The man tending the booth came over; I barely looked at him, saying, “I just love him. He’s my favorite icon, but mine’s at home.”
            The man immediately handed me a small card, which reminded me of my Gran’s prayer cards of saints, with the icon on it. I was touched, and finally looked at the salesman.
            “You look tired, for the first day of the show,” he said. “Here, have some protein,” and he handed me a dish of cashews. “We need to stay away from all the candy set out here.”
            I agreed, telling him that, according to my priest, who serves them at meetings, cashews are one of the four food groups. (The others are chocolate, cheese, and diet Coke, if you were wondering.) I also worried privately, because if, within two hours of arrival, my weariness was obvious to a person I’d never met, how would I manage to be both gracious and perky for the next two days?
            I ate a few cashews and thanked him, then wandered down the aisle of displays before heading back to my room for some much-needed quiet and solitude. Throughout the conference I would periodically circle back to see the icon poster. My card-sized version stayed on the bedside table where I could see it. At home, the icon always hangs by my front door. As Psalm 121:8 promises, the LORD indeed kept my “going out and coming in,” even to the suburbs of Chicago.

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