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Book Review: the Dwelling of the Light: Praying With Icons of Christ by Rowan Williams

by Peter Menkin  
1/20/2009 / Book Reviews

Meditation on four icons, most enjoyable

This small, very pretty, and interesting book in the sense that it has a lot to say in a short period of text (as if text had time in it), is certainly something to meditate on and think about. Just about a few days reading, Rowan Williams has managed to meditate and so interpret in a theological way, these icons: The Transfiguration, The Resurrection, Christ as one of the eternal Trinity, Christ as judge of the world and ruler of all.

When I say that this book by its text seems to be about time, I mean in a way that is stretched, that this book takes imagination and thought to follow, expresses some deep beliefs and some insightful ways of becoming more with the spirit of Jesus Christ, and of gaining inspiration to go on with a life in the spirit. That is a mouthful. But afterall, if you are looking for a how-to book, this is not really it--though appreciation and the way of entering into the spirit and substance of the icons is there.

The book did begin as a series of meditations, so there it is also valuable to some who are of a more religious bent since it is by a religious man, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is one way we are led to a more inspired way of worship and living in the spirit: "Looking at Jesus seriously changes things; if we do not want to be changed, it is better not to look hard or too long. The apostles in the icon are shielding their eyes, because what they see is not easily manageable in their existing world." From the icon "Transfiguration" about the transfiguration, a depiction.

For repeating myself, this pretty book makes a nice gift. I have given in to a friend who is a minister, and he said he and his wife enjoyed the small book, that it is a keeper. There is a good recommendation for it. How nice to have someone receive a gift and like it very much, to want to keep it. So this is a satisfying book one can go back to and read, and also look at the icons.

Rowan Williams is a thinking mind, a very good theologian (so his reputation admits), and something of an intellectual (kind of a mild kudo for one of so fine a mind). This is an easy way to enter into his writings, and to enjoy his thoughts. If one wants to have a thoughtful book that reflects on the Trinity and also that wonderful icon of three angels called "The Hospitality of Abraham" by Rubrev, and so on some other key biblical themes in the Christian faith, this is a good place to enjoy such things.

"While we can accept all the proper cautions about not treating the figures as simle depictions of the trinitarian persons, there is certainly a convention which understands that the icon is to be 'read' from left to right pointing to the father, the son and the spirit..." My reason for using this quote is to give the reader of this review a taste of the tone of the book. There is something consistently civil and formed about the tone of the book that is part of the hallmark of style about which the book is extant. I say "extant" because there is a spirit about the book that is partially the product of the tone, and the presence that is brought to bear by the writer and the designers of this gift book. That is something that people who like writing and to read will find both enjoyable and interesting about this title.

No doubt about it, the writer Archbishop Rowan Williams is a man of faith who has the gospel in mind, and can be relied on to bring some of the many dimensions of Christ and his light to a reader. Here he speaks of Christ: "In all these meditations on icons of Christ, we find outselves looking at far more than just the representation of human beings of long ago. We are brought into the presence of one who contains everything, who makes everything hang together, who gives us the power to see all things freshly." It is an impressive thing when someone who is sincere and a believer can make his beliefs come to life and meaning to others who are not so advanced in their spiritual lives as he.

The author has managed to write a series of meditations on icons, four of them, and to let the reader know about this God (Trinitarian) who acts in history both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. A small, pretty book, this title makes a good gift for a religious or Church going friend who has an interest in art or finding ways to enter into the spirit through other dimensions, including the appreciation of icons, especially.

--Peter Menkin, Obl Cam OSB (Mill Valley, CA USA)

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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