The first Jesus-followers strove to figure out this whole Jesus and resurrection and Messiah thing. They heard the first-hand stories and as the movement spread read reports of the resurrection. They began studying the Hebrew Scriptures for signs pointing to Jesus. Along the way, they picked up a few teachings. Such as, you shall have no graven images of Yahweh.

Unlike all the other religions, Jews did not make a picture or statue of their God. Christ-followers picked this up. As we read, for example in the gospel of John, God is spirit, worship in spirit and truth.

Evagrius writing in the 4th Century warns about how images may come to you in prayer and that these are the work of spiritual forces opposed to God.

When I began meditating at age 17 or so, I was sternly taught–no images. Do not picture God. Maybe staring at a mandala will help focus the mind, but in reality, these are to be avoided.

One of the sub-plots in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky concerns whether it is right to have ikons. These have traditionally been popular within the Eastern Orthodox churches.

By the way, if you have not read this book or if it has been a long time, make it your next novel. Don’t watch the movie as a shortcut. It is a terrible representation of the book.

When I read this teaching in Evagrius, all these thoughts ran through my head. And, to this day, I do not visualize God when I meditate. I visualize nothing. I concentrate on my breath. Or, I say a mantra such as “God” or “Spirit” or the long form “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. These can help slow the mind and aid focus. Mostly, I can just sit, adjust my breathing, and dwell in silence for a time. Done for a period of time, it effects physical changes in the brain and helps lead to a calmer life.

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