Growing up as a Legio Maria was never easy. As a young boy, discussions with my playmates on my faith almost ended up in scorn. Belonging to other faiths, these playmates of mine were taught in their churches that God’s second commandment to humanity was clear: that nobody should make or bow to graven images. And so, they were on point. They were always referring me to the scriptures and warning me of Hell if I did not heed their regular advice and stopped bowing to the images.
However, it was almost impossible to live my life as a child in a Legio Maria family and ignore images. There were images everywhere. At the entrance to our home, there was a big wooden cross. Before this cross, my dad, mother and elder brothers and sisters used to kneel and make prayers routinely. Inside every house was an altar, and on every altar were placed images of Simeo Ondeto, Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, angels, saints and Mama Maria. There were also mini crosses on the altars. At church, there were two big wooden crosses, one at the entrance and another at the middle of the church compound. The church altar had several images too.
The Rosaries and Catenas
Moreover, in our home, every person had a rosary and a catena. On the rosaries and catenas were medallions with engraved images of Mary, Jesus, the last supper, Simeo Ondeto, Virgin Mary and Mama Maria. Of course, each rosary or catena would have a medallion that was relevant to their prayer uses. But this ensured that images were everywhere in my life. And to escape them would almost be tantamount to running away from home because there was no way of living in our family without interacting with the images.
As a young boy with little understanding of what the images meant, I always faced immense dilemma. On one side were my friends who always read to me the bible and asking me to shun the images. And on the other hand was my family who had made the images part of our life. Sometimes I felt the boys were right, and that Legio Maria faithful were wrong. At other times I saw the devotion of Legio Maria faithful to the images and heard the teachings of Baba Simeo Ondeto regarding the images, and then felt that the boys were wrong. It was a big dilemma of my boyhood.
Research into the Dilemma
To unravel the puzzle and find direction in my life, I decided to do my own research into the Ten Commandments. At the very beginning, I met the shock of my life. The second commandment (about the graven images) did not exist in the prayer book that was on our home altars. This puzzled me. I could not find a reason for this until when I was in High School. As a high school student, I was a devout member of the Christian Union (CU), even rising to be Chairman of the Union. Therefore, I was exposed to several books that discussed the second commandment.
The Puzzle Solved
And when I joined college, I kept the reading zeal that I had in high school; reading several books on the history of Christianity, commentaries on the Bible, Church Council records and the opinions of Church Fathers. In the end, the reasoning behind use or no-use of graven images became clearer to me. At one point, after I had read an insightful book on the history of the church’s reformation and the arguments of Martin Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Erasmus, for and against the images, I just broke into laughter. I laughed so loudly because I had discovered the truth.
Meaning of the Second Commandment
So, what truth did I discover? Naturally, the human mind is dazzled by images. It stores for longer what it learns in picture (image) form that what it learns through words. Humans like images! And they are in the image of God too. Yet, during the time of Moses, God was only known as “I AM”. He had not been seen.
Nobody knew how he looked like. He was only experienced through revelations, dreams and visions. He was only a voice that called prophets and instructed them on what to do and what to tell the people. His image could not be captured by humans, and therefore any attempts to make graven images of the unseen God were always going to be a mess.
Hence, the second commandment was important in reminding the people of Israel that they had not seen God and could not make his image. It also reminded them that any images that they could make were going to be wrong pictures of God because they did not know exactly how he looked. Furthermore, the images would direct their devotions to the wrong objects.
Jesus Came as a Man: His Images Could be Captured
The coming of Jesus as a man changed everything. Through Jesus, the unseen God took the form of the seen and lived in the world. His image could now be captured and stored. Expert artists could now draw or paint Jesus’ figure and store in their shelves. His miracles could now be captured in picture form and used for teaching and preaching his Gospel to the world.
Therefore, the son of God who dwells eternally as the spirit became the first physical image of the unseen God and took a form that could now be bowed to, knelt to and worshipped. Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the second commandment in a revolutionary way and drastically changed the way that commandment could now be approached. After the incarnation of Jesus, his image can now be made!
Using Images in Worship
Images have greater effect than mere words. If someone tells you about Jesus and another shows you the image of Jesus, you would most likely feel greater connection with Jesus because of the image than because of the words. Words are easy to forget, but images linger in the mind longer. Therefore, the use of images in worship makes the worship environment more solemn. Worshippers feel like they are before the lord more than they would feel when told about the lord’s presence.
When they stare directly at the images believers feel as if they are staring directly at the face of Jesus. In fact, the cross of Jesus with his image on it has a greater effect on believers than the words of a bishop or pastor calling people to remember the suffering of Jesus.
We Bow to Images Without Shame
As Legio Maria, we bow to images of Jesus and of Simeo Ondeto without shame. We feel no guilt. Instead, we feel more connection to Jesus (Ondeto) when we bow to the images. We feel like we are right before him and he is staring directly at us. And we know that by Ondeto becoming the physical image of the unseen son of God, he has authorized us to take his pictures and use on our altars. In fact, he even instructed us to use his images!