I hear the word "icon" being used a lot lately. And not in a tech savvy computer user way.
Tech users know an icon's the little thing on your screen that represents what you're going to get when you touch it or click on it.
It's also the proper name for a venerated painting or pictorial representation of a saint or religious figure, particularly in the Orthodox and Eastern Christian churches.
But the origin of "icon" is in the Greek, meaning a likeness or an image. Our contemporary use is to mean a person or thing that represents something meaningful to us.
So that's how it came up when I ran into somebody at the gas station just after David Bowie died. We talked about him being an icon, not just for his creative musical artistry, but for being faithful to being himself. He inspired artists and musicians and anyone who was unique and different to be true to who they are and to believe in their imagination and creativity. Sadly, we also noted, icons, just like everyone, leave us. What we have is their image, indelibly printed on us.
That's undoubtedly why we've been hearing it so much lately. We've lost some pretty important icons in the last little while, like Dickie Moore, David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Ray Daley.
There's lots more, to be sure, but the point is that we acknowledge their iconic nature based on what they represent to us, personally. That can then become collectively recognized, depending on their fame or their appeal, and to whom they appeal and how.
Dickie Moore, for example, was a legendary hockey player with the Montreal Canadiens, a Hall of Famer who, with Jean Beliveau and the Richard brothers, led the Canadiens to six Stanley Cups in the late 1950's. He was a gifted player and a determined competitor.
David Bowie was an amazing musician and an innovative artist who challenged norms in music, art, gender and spirituality, inspiring other to do the same.
Alan Rickman was an actor who's distinctive voice and style took him from Shakespeare to Harry Potter in a wide variety of roles, creating "iconic" characters. He was also known to be generous and supportive of other actors and is remembered by colleagues and critics as one of the greatest actors of his generation.
Ray Daley was a good man. He'd probably be embarrassed to be included here, although I'm pretty sure he'd be shocked to be mentioned with David Bowie (and not in a good way). You might not have included him, either, because you might not know who he is.
Ray died just before Christmas after a long and stubborn battle with cancer. Ray was a little bit rough around the edges and he certainly had his struggles in life. I only got to know Ray in the last six years, but to me he's an icon. He loved his family, the Royal Canadian Legion and his church. He was one of the best "not-a-church-goer-s" I ever met. He didn't care much for sitting in a pew, but he was, as he said, a "believer" who would rather be doing something than sitting, listening to someone talk about it.
At his memorial at the Legion, there were stories from others of how Ray touched their lives in ways they'll always remember, always live out. Of course, Ray wasn't famous, not beyond his community, but then, he wasn't trying to be. He was just trying to be Ray to one person at a time.
This time of year is the season of Epiphany, the season of "revealing" when we hear stories of Jesus being, well, Jesus. There was no PR campaign or global broadcast. The angels came to a few poor shepherds. It was a few magi who followed the star. When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple to be named, it was only Simeon and Anna that knew him. How big, really, was the crowd who saw John - one on one - baptize Jesus. At the wedding in Cana, who knew Jesus had turned the water into wine? Only a few. And when Jesus proclaims "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me" in the synagogue, it was to a small, hometown crowd who knew him.
I don't think fame was on Jesus' agenda. I think he was more concerned with personal, heart felt contact, with being Jesus to one person at a time, bringing love and compassion to one person at a time, bringing people closer to God one person at a time. Jesus' fame grew as those who experienced him shared their stories and their lives, living as Jesus showed them, one person at a time.
It's so easy for our eyes to be drawn to the famous and perhaps they are, sometimes, deserving. But look at the people around you: I bet there's an icon of Jesus there. And look at you: can you, too, be an icon of Jesus to those around you? Maybe even one person at a time.