PonderThese Things: Praying with Icons of the Virgin. 
Rowan Williams. Foreward by Kallistos Ware. 
Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2002.

Rowan Williams, soon to be installed as Archbishop of Canterbury, has written a small and a beautiful book on prayers, icons, and Mary.  Icons are not simply "works of religious art," but "theology in line and color."  Rather than simply gaze on them, we must "read what the icon writer has written."  Important in these meditations is William's great sensitivity to the "lines and directions" within the icon.

Three icons are considered: the One Who Points the Way; the Virgin of Loving Kindness, and the Virgin of the Sign.  In the first, Mary points away from herself to Jesus, whose eyes are directed to Mary, while Mary's eyes look toward us.  In the icon, Jesus is not an isolated figure but one in relation with others. 

 

We are invited to enter with Jesus "into his own self-forgetting engagement with the human world" and not simply contemplate him as a divine but isolated individual.

In the Virgin of Loving Kindness, the Infant clinging to Mary points out that God cannot be separated from the world he created, that he is passionate for our company.  Mary's somber gaze directed toward us speaks of the many levels of the divine presence, which mold, challenge, and transform. 

The Virgin of the Sign, with the representation of Christ within the body of Mary, is an image of the Church.  Christ is concealed in the center of the Church; the image encourages the Church to trust in the God hidden in its life.  Rowan concludes that "Imaging Mary in words and pictures has always been one of the most powerful ways of imagining the Church."

This work, a "spiritual gem" and appropriate for the Christmas season, is, as Bishop Kallistos Ware mentions in the Introduction, "to be read not once only but many times."


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