In his book, The Road to Missional, Michael Frost describes the experience of wandering through the Vatican Museum in Rome to stumble upon an eighth-century mosaic fragment that depicted Pope John VII wearing not a shiny, gold halo but a simple black square. Taken aback, Frost inquired of his tour guide: weren’t all halos those gold, “beaming discs of godliness” that hover rather magically in mid-air suspension over the heads of the holy?
Apparently not. If gilded, circular halos were an indication of one’s other-worldly, spiritual perfection, square halos were a way of keeping one’s feet very much grounded on earth; they reminded us that their bearer is “still very much of the earth” (in this case, Pope John VII, while a respected churchman, had not, at the time of the mosaic’s making, died and qualified for canonization).
Frost muses: “I like the idea of my portrait being painted with me wearing a square halo, admittedly somewhat askew. It speaks of an earthy kind of spirituality, a down-to-earth holiness…The more I look to Jesus, the more I see him as the bearer of a square halo as well, albeit not askew like mine. His holiness is revealed through his everyday mercy and his goodness toward the poor and marginalized, not by his being above or beyond contact with sinners. If we want to emulate the righteousness of Jesus, we need to rediscover that his is a holiness revealed by contact with the broken things of this world, not by withdrawal from them.”
I’ve never looked good in hats…but a square halo? That would be something.
The closest I’ve gotten to wearing a “halo” of any kind is in my latest work as a corporate chaplain. Usually, in visiting numerous different companies, I wear a magnetic name tag that reads, “Kristina Robb-Dover, Chaplain;” it’s a handy way to identify myself as I make my rounds to various office cubbyholes, and to fend off awkward moments like the inquiry, “Who are you?,” paired with a suspicious glance.
Sometimes I’ll find myself wandering off-duty into a store or restaurant having forgotten to take my name tag off. When this happens, I’m a bit embarrassed by the reactions. Suddenly I acquire either a more revered or more suspicious status.
Did I mention that I don’t like name tags to begin with?
But I wonder what would happen if we chose to wear (invisible) square halos? Would our feet feel more firmly planted on the ground? Would we be more inclined to see ourselves as works in progress without all the answers but with a whole lot of heart to be more like Jesus? Would we be more conscious of our place in the world rather than apart from it, and more mindful of our call to be engaged with brokenness? Would others be more inclined to see us this way?
From now on, I’ll be wearing a square halo.