I’ve been reading a book called Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference, by Myroslaw Tataryn and Maria Truchan-Tataryn . I’ll write a longer post about this book at a later time, but for now I want to highlight a chapter on the relationship between disability and iconography. Iconography keeps us connected to the embodied aspects of our faith, though not in ways that simply assent to cultural norms about what bodies should be and how they should look. At one point, the authors reflect upon an icon of the birth of Christ. Their elucidation of the meaning of this icon was so profound that I had to try to find it. I’m certainly no expert on icons, but I think this is it:
Here’s what the authors write about this icon:
A common iconographic rendering of this unfathomable event [the Incarnation] contains the ambivalence inherent in embodiment: shadows of doubt, pain, inextricable from light and and life. The central focus of the icon is a reclining figure of Mary, the mother of Christ. She is wrapped in a shroud with only her face and one hand exposed. Her face rests on her hand in a posture of weariness; her expression is one of marked sorrow. Her body turns away from her child, conveying a grim impression of exhausted suffering. The infant lies in a coffin tightly swaddled in the cloth strips of burial–like an Egyptian mummy. A midwife and wet nurse are in attendance, washing the tiny naked, adult-looking child. Our contemplation of divine embodiment includes inescapable facets of corporeal being: the pain of childbirth, the service of the women, the vulnerability of the body held at the mercy of another, the suggestion of fear of the small figure turned towards the water but clinging to the woman’s arm. In the opposite corner, a deeply troubled Joseph is being tempted to mistrust his wife and reject her purported innocence. Heaven, nature, humanity are witness to God become flesh. There is no room to doubt the ambivalence of this reality. Death permeates the scene of birth.
I invite you to reflect and pray upon this icon yourself. If you’re a Protestant, this might seem strange, but there is much we can learn from Christian practices far older than our own traditions.