December 26, 2014

Keeping a Secret

One of the celebrated icons of the tradition portrays John the Divine (that is, the Theologian) with a finger to his lips in the age-old gesture for silence or secrecy. I've always supposed this imagery is based on the commandment John receives in Revelation 10:4, to keep secret the message delivered by the seven thunders. Roger that, 10-4 indeed, point taken.

Whether this passage or the whole theme of an ironic “revelation” written in such heavily coded language that only an initiate can understand it, the suggestion of secret knowledge is a sure-fire way to generate book sales. Few books of the New Testament generate quite as much reflection — some of it no doubt widely divergent from the author’s intent — as well as a good amount of fevered speculation as to when it is going to “come true.” There seem to be a couple of cable TV channels dedicated more or less permanently to such prognostication.

I do not think, however, that this was the goal of the author, be that author John as the text indicates, or some other figure making use of his name. The message does seem distant from what one might expect of a Galilean fisherman promoted to disciple, perhaps the beloved one. But a lot could happen between the time spent by Galilee and in Jerusalem, and the long years on Patmos. My sense is the author made use of the time for reflection and introspection, and in the end was passing on the warning his Lord had given: be prepared to endure before you are finally vindicated. This is also, perhaps needless to say, a welcome message, particularly to those suffering real persecution.

So we honor John the Theologian, accepting his counsel to keep stum on some things while proclaiming others boldly. And to bring things a bit up to date, I've recreated the icon with a modern model, my own dear Brother-in-Christ Maurice John Grove, casting a wise and knowing eye in our direction. My goal in all of these icons is to make the saints as real and human and living as I can, and I give thanks to Maurice John for serving to that end.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


John Julian said...


That is surely one of the finest of your biblical icons—subtle, understated, metaphorical, and beautiful.

Your Julian looks at me over my shoulder from the top a bookcase.

Gracious holy times—and brilliant new year.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, dear friend, and a blessed new year to you and all who bask in the wisdom of Julian of Norwich.