Icon Meditation: Our Lady of Ferguson and All Those Killed by Gun Violence
This icon was commissioned by the Rev. Dr. Mark Bozzuti-Jones at Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, and written (icons are not “painted,” but “written” in prayer and as visual prayers) by Mark Dukes, to recognize victims of gun violence. It is on display at Trinity.
This icon combines Mary, a boy caught in the cross-hairs of a gun, the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizing His compassion for the whole world, and the Christus Victor mark symbolizing His victory over the powers which hold humankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.
Mary, the God-bearer, is always depicted in iconography wearing the blue of humanity closest to her body and the red of divinity over the blue. In this image, Mary holds her arms in the orans position, a position of prayer and supplication. When Christ is shown in Mary’s womb in this style of depiction, it references Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” It is a visual sign to us today of Christ’s continuing presence—of God-with-us. Mary is depicted as an African-American woman, emphasizing her compassion with the Black community; Mary, too, lost her son to a violent death and knew grief, and she comforts all mothers who have suffered the loss of children and all those who are left behind–comforts because death is not the end.
In the middle of the icon, rather than Jesus as we would expect, we see a boy caught in the cross-hairs of a gun—and in the center of his chest we see the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart has always been a representation of Christ’s divine love for humanity. The Sacred Heart is surrounded by a crown of thorns, further representing Christ’s suffering and sacrificial love for all. The boy’s hands are also in the orans position. In the victim’s elbows are the letters “C” and “V”—Christus Victor. This is the name for an ancient theory of the Atonement that counterbalances a strict transactional substitution/ransom concept of the Atonement with a less transactional concept in which Christ’s death defeated the powers of evil which held humankind in bondage, sin, and death. Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and redeemed and conquered them. Christ the Victor saves us from the sin in which we are trapped.
There are many fruitful themes for meditation and prayer in this icon, including:
- God took on flesh as a helpless child.
- God suffered as a human.
- Christ suffered as an innocent victim.
- Christ was unjustly killed by the evil systems that rule the world through the powers of violence, selfishness, and intimidation.
- Christ overcame the power of violence and the power of evil.
- Christ conquered the power of death.
- Christ is the Victor over the sins of us all, individually and collectively.
At first viewing, the icon overtly speaks of death through the image of the gun crosshairs. But through closer examination, prayer, and meditation, it can be seen that it is actually an icon of Hope, specifically of Hope in the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ Jesus the Victor—Hope in Christ’s redeeming and transforming presence in our midst today. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, symbolizing His compassion and love for the whole world—even for His enemies—even for those who killed Him—still beats whole and undimmed. As followers of Christ, we proclaim that evil and death do not have the last word; we are called to action to love God and neighbor, to show the world that “Hope in Christ” is a living power in our lives and a living, redemptive power in our world.
Fr. James Martin, S.J., editor of the national Catholic magazine America, writes this regarding the icon:
Our Lady prays for all who are targeted by gun violence: African-Americans and all others, the poor and marginalized, and police officers.
All are her children.
All are our brothers and sisters.
Let us ask Our Lady to pray for us.
[Ed: Much of this material is from the blog http://globalworship.tumblr.com/post/147146113830/our-lady-of-gun-violence-victims-recent-icon]