“God takes pleasure in every work of art which is a mirror of his glory. He is pleased with every saint who is an icon of his splendor.” Paul Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon
There is a custom among Christian families in Eastern Europe that calls them to devote one corner of one room in their home for prayer. Sounds right, doesn’t it? But devoting 5-7 sq. ft. of space in our home is only the first step (but also consistent with the old Advent custom of house cleaning and preparation). Space for prayer need not be empty space. The purpose of devoting one corner for prayer is to fill that corner with beautiful images that inspire worship and lift our eyes to Christ. Among Eastern Christian families, this devoted prayer corner is affectionately called “the angle of beauty.”
In Eastern households, “the angle of beauty” is adorned with icons of Christ and the saints. Icons are windows through which one’s heart is drawn to Christ in prayer. Beauty inspires communion with the Beautiful One. The psalmist cries out: “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” At the place where two walls meet, the beauty of holiness appears when we prepare a corner of our homes for adoration and worship.
When I was setting up my office this summer, I didn’t have an angle of beauty in mind, but I knew that I wanted a station devoted to prayer. Next to the window I placed a few icons and a candle on a desk to make a prayer station. What I didn’t consider when I arranged this room was the sun’s circuit in the hours of the working day. The blinds are broken on the back window of my office, so when 3 p.m. comes around my study desk can feel like asphalt in the summer.
But in the earlier hours of the morning, a gentler shaft of light creeps into the back corner of my prayer desk. Praying the Advent prayers from Morning Prayer today, the sun’s brightness drew me to pray with eyes open. The light falling on the icon of the Virgin and Child created an angle of beauty that I could not have arranged with the placement of office furniture. Created light wrapped round the image of Uncreated Light in the arms of his Virgin Mother. My eyes were opened to see that the Virgin and Child are afire with divine love–for God, for one another, for the world. I began to pray for my heart to be afire with the love of God. In my intercessions for others I prayed that the love of God would warm the hearts of those I love.
I know that if I try to time my prayers in keeping with the sun’s circuit that I won’t have the same inspiring experience every morning. The Holy Spirit is mysterious; like the wind, I cannot anticipate his coming or going. But there is particular character about beauty that seems to prepare the way for his coming. Advent calls us to lift up our eyes and beautiful images have a way of elevating our vision to look for the coming of the Lord.
Icons have a special and mysterious beauty, but certainly there are other images, symbols, or artwork that would inspire adoration and worship in an angle of beauty. The point of creating space for beauty and prayer in our households or offices is to train our vision to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. For when beauty is before us, we find ourselves in the place of the three Magi looking for a sign. We behold a light and we move out to see what such a sign may mean. And moving toward the beautiful but lesser lights in this world we find that they have drawn us to behold the majesty of Uncreated Light, Jesus Christ.
All of that can happen in the place where two walls meet in your home. The Holy Spirit is One who makes the ordinary things glorious.