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Thursday 18 May 2023 Ascension Day

13 February 2023

The High Mountain Ikon

Psalm 121; Ephesians 1:15-23

By Jonathan Dean

Retired United Reformed Church Minister

Context: all age congregation, well aware of the wider world and of the local Quaker, Jewish and other faith community neighbours

Aim: to contemplate the Bible mountain ‘ikon’

My school, in a Midlands town, was a 1944 Education Act foundation Grammar School. The town sported an old Grammar School as well, which had recently become a Public School. Our headmaster was super keen that we should beat them at rugby. So, we were all on the field as often as possible. This I hated. And as soon as I was allowed, I escaped from the scrum into the scrub of cross country running. Not everybody favoured this strategy. But it was supported by our kindly school (Scottish) doctor whose motto was: ‘Lads, see that you run or walk up a steep hill every day. Recipe for lifelong health!’ I avidly followed his character-building advice.




On the larger scale, myriad books and broadcasts testify to the British love of escape to the mountains. Distant echoes of half-forgotten Bible pictures. This brings to mind a great last century Scottish politician, John Smith. Subject to heart attack, he was warned by his doctor to begin exercising. Which took him to the Scottish mountains, known as The Munros. Before his fatal heart failure, he climbed 108 of the 277 Munros, and became what is known as a ‘Munro Bagger,’ I’m told. He died and received Christian burial on the holy isle of Iona. Thinking on such great characters and homely habits are good reminders for Christians of some essentials of good practice. We call ‘crucial’ what is to do with the Cross and what at given moments death has to say about life rising out of loss and suffering.

‘Cross’ concentrates us on Cross Hill (Golgotha: Skull Hill); and for all Christians the key, the centre, of Biblical symbol language is the ‘green hill far away’; and upon it the torture cross held Jesus’s trunk and outstretched arms. Today’s Ascension symbols map out the end of a half year of uplands from the Arrival of Jesus (Advent) to the physical Departure of the Lord (Ascension, as we say, into heaven).

What does this symbol mountain language mean to the receptor of our minds (imaginations)? Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox faith language, we have been reminded, centres on inner images called ikons. Believers pray that contemplating them, internalizing them, can destroy death and bring about mental and spiritual transformation and true upland peace (shalom). They believe that the way the Bible speaks heart to heart is essentially communicated in the mental images known as ikons, which we can of course also blot out, despise, misuse, violate … Or, through our visualization of biblical happenings, all can be changed, in our thinking, speaking, acting. Transfigured, on earth as in heaven. Any time. Any place. Primary meditation. Universal.




Clearly, we are praying that this may be so for all who would smash up lives in terrible violence. How we pray for our churches’ vocation of visualizing peace into effective prayer. For those in cities of peace the Mountain Climb can be through mental concentration in order to have our natures changed, morning by morning; at the bus stop, in the car, … in the silence, in the tumult.

Orthodox Christians can today truly prompt us to imagine the ikon of Paradise; the garden of Adam and Eve. Orthodox visualize Eden as a mountain of Spiritual Growth into the peace which passes understanding. It is available to us in all conditions by the Spirit’s possession of our imagination. What we need most is the prayer for the hallowing of our minds (a definition of Christian life). The daily resurrection of our minds’ inner pictures. Ready to be screened by the Holy Spirit. This can begin as we are switched on again by the image of Jesus ascended for the second half of the Spirit’s year of grace.




The miracle of Jesus’s arrival in the heavenly palace to prepare a place for us. Ready at any time to take up residence in our being. And reproduce the ikon of the thirty years’ climb, which we have faithfully held on to in the half year from Advent to Ascension. All we need is the free opening of our ikon Bible, the Spirit’s gift of visualization, which Augustine learned as proto-language from his African mother and entitled in a song to himself, ‘The Light of the Minds that know You [God].’




Psalms 121 and 122, called Songs of Ascension, present us with Mountain Vision here in the Great Bowl of Middlesex. Look them up to sing! And Ephesians gives us, in chapter 1, the absolute image of our Ark, the Church, the ultimate harbour of the Body of Christ ‘seated in the heavenly places.’ Let us be confident of Seeing. Let us imagine the coming peace of the world and the ultimate words of Jesus at his Table Mountain taking Bread of the Word and Wine of the Ikon of Joy and making ours the Promise of the Son: ‘I will arise and go to my Father!’

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