Icons in the Attic

What symbols of blessing do you have boxed away? Perhaps it's time to unwrap a few of them.

Greg Asimakoupoulos One of the lesser known exhibits in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is a collection of Abraham Lincoln's personal effects from the night he was shot: a handkerchief embroidered "A. Lincoln," a pen knife, a spectacles case repaired with cotton string, a Confederate $5 bill, and a worn newspaper article praising Lincoln as one of the greatest statesmen of history — not a common opinion at the time. It seemed that even President Lincoln needed a tangible reminder of his worth.

I have a name for momentos such as that yellowed newspaper clipping in Lincoln's wallet: icons. My grandfather was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, and I know that icons are not the graven images my Sunday school teacher implied. These pieces of art are visual aids, reminding worshipers of how God has intervened in the lives of his people. These pictures open a window into the presence of God.

Christians through the ages have used visual aids as reminders of how God has intervened in their lives.

The Bible is filled with icons. Noah had a rainbow. Abraham and Joshua had piles of stones. The nation of Israel hauled around the ark of the covenant, a chest full of icons: a jar of manna, the Ten Commandments, a budding shepherd's staff. Even Jesus gave us icons: a towel and a basin of water, a loaf of bread, a cup of wine. These tangible symbols help us focus on God's faithfulness and presence.

An Icon of My Call

Over the past few years, my wife, Wendy, and I have pulled down objects from our attic, dusted them off, and started placing them around our home to remind us of God's faithfulness in our ministry.

One such icon is a hand-crafted banner created by the youth minister at our first church. It now hangs in my study. Whenever I sit at my desk to plan worship or prepare a sermon, it reminds me of my call to ministry. In brilliant colors, the theme of the church conference at which I was ordained stretches across the fabric: "Made Alive to Serve." A bronze plate at the bottom bears my name and the date of my ordination. As I view it, I remember that my privilege of being called a minister has a higher purpose.

An Icon of a Congregation's Love

There is a bud vase prominently displayed on a bookshelf. It was given to Wendy and me on the eve of our fifth wedding anniversary by a couple in the church we served at the time. Tightly wrapped within the flowerless vase was a letter of appreciation thanking us for our ministry in their lives and a crisp $100 bill. We didn't need to break the vase to remove the contents, but this unexpected token of our friends' affection seemed to us like the gift of the woman who broke a jar of expensive perfume to express her love to Jesus (Mark 14:3). It is a picture of God's extravagant love.

An Icon of Ultimate Joy

On another shelf sits a tarnished trophy, a relic from Bible camp when I was 12. But the trophy is not the icon. It's a golf ball I placed on top of it to remind me of my purpose in life.

A non-Christian neighbor, Marty, accepted my invitation to play in our church golf tournament. Because he won, he had to show up in church to collect his prize. After that, he and his family started attending regularly.

A series of crises in his life opened the way for me to lead Marty to Christ. He even asked if I would baptize him in a water hazard on our favorite golf course! That unique baptismal service and all the "Martys" who found Christ through that ministry are represented by that little ball in that tarnished trophy.

Finding Icons

Here are a few questions to ask yourselves that may help you discover the symbolic lenses that will remind you how God has been at work in your life:

  • What knickknack has survived every move we've made, even though it's probably not worth 10 bucks? Why is it so important to keep?
  • What handmade object do I treasure because of who made it and gave it to me, not because of its artistic beauty? Does it recall a season of our lives I don't want to forget?
  • What gifts were give by a former congregation that calls to mind — with tears, regrets and joys — our ministry among them?
  • What heirloom from a parent or grandparent reminds me of my ancestry and the values that have shaped me? A family Bible? A brown-tint family photo? A homemade quilt?
  • What possessions trigger memories of my call to ministry — an ordination certificate, a carving of a shepherd, a piece of driftwoood? What small item is a remnant of that time or place when I became a Christian? A Gideon New Testament? A baptismal certificate? A miniature framed picture of Jesus?
  • Can I identify something given me by a friend, employer or relative that symbolizes God's intervention at a turning point in my life? A letter? A tattered book of poetry? A compass?

In the acclaimed movie, Mr. Holland's Opus, the retiring principal gave the popular band teacher a symbolic gift: a compass. She had treasured it for more than 30 years as a reminder that educators are called to be moral guides who also impart knowledge. Her compass was an icon. So are those objects in our lives that trigger significant memories and inspire vision.

What tangible symbols of mercy and blessing in your life are boxed away? Perhaps it is time to unwrap a few of them. They just might help you see God at work more clearly than ever.

Taken from Pastor's Family magazine, Oct/Nov 1997.
Article copyright © 1997, Greg Asimakoupoulos.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Greg Asimakoupoulos is currently the senior pastor of Mercer Island Covenant Church in suburban Seattle. He has spent nearly 20 years as a local church pastor in Washington, California and Illinois. From 1997 to 2002, he was also director of creative communication for Mainstay Ministries in Wheaton, Ill. Since then, he has pursued a ministry of writing, speaking and broadcasting. He has been married to his wife, Wendy, for over 20 years. They have three young adult daughters: Kristin, Allison and Lauren.