Posted September 27, 2003
Book: Behold The Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons
Author: Henri J. M. Nouwen
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, pp. 80
Excerpt from Introduction:
For you who will read these meditations it is important to gaze at the icons with complete attention and to pray with them . . . The words in this book come from my own gazing at these icons. They may or may not touch you. But if they help you only a little to start seeing these icons for yourselves, my words will have fulfilled their purpose and may be forgotten. Then these icons will have become yours and they can guide you by day and by night, in good times and in bad, when you feel sad and when you feel joyful. They will begin to speak of the unique way to which God has chosen to love you.
Excerpt from Book:
How can we live in the midst of a world marked by fear, hatred and violence, and not be destroyed by it? When Jesus prays to this Father for his disciples he responds to this question by saying, "I am not asking you to remove them form the world but to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world"
To live in the world without belonging to the world summarizes the essence of the spiritual life. The spiritual life keeps us aware that our true house is not the house of fear, in which the powers of hatred and violence rule, but the house of love, where God resides.
Hardly a day passes in our lives without our experience of inner or outer fears, anxieties, apprehensions and preoccupations. These dark powers have pervaded every part of our world to such a degree that we can never fully escape them. Still it is possible not to belong to these powers, not to build our dwelling place among them, but to choose the house of love as our home. This choice is made not just once and for all but by living a spiritual life, praying at all times and thus breathing God's breath. Through the spiritual life we gradually move from the house of fear to the house of love.
I have never seen the house of love more beautifully expressed than in the icon of the Holy Trinity, painted by Andrew Rublev in 1425 in memory of the great Russian saint, Sergius (1313-1392). For me the contemplation of this icon has increasingly become a way to enter more deeply into the mystery of divine life while remaining fully engaged in the struggles of our hate-and-fear filled world.
. . . During a hard period of my life in which verbal prayer had become nearly impossible and during which mental and emotional fatigue had made me the easy victim of feelings of despair and fear, a long and quiet presence to this icon became the beginning of my healing. As I sat for long hours in front of Rublev's Trinity, I noticed how gradually my gaze became prayer. This silent prayer slowly made my inner restlessness melt away and lifted me up into the circle of love, a circle that could not be broken by the powers of the world. Even as I moved away from the icon and became involved in the many tasks of everyday life, I felt as if I did not have to leave the holy place I had found and could dwell there whatever I did or wherever I went. I knew that the house of love I had entered has not boundaries and embraces everyone who wants to dwell there.
Through the contemplation of this icon we come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle. The words of the psalm, "The sparrow has found its home at last . . . Happy those who live in your house" are given new depth and new breadth; they become words revealing the possibility of being in the world without being of it. . . .
Table of Contents:
I. The Icon of the Holy Trinity: Living In The House of Love
A gentle invitation
Where heart speaks to heart
The circle, the cross and liberation
II. The Icon of the Virgin of Vladimir: Belonging To God
The eyes of the Virgin
The hands of the Virgin
The child of the Virgin
III. The Icon Of The Savior Of Zvenigorod: Seeing Christ
Seeing the damage image
Seeing a tender human face
Seeing eyes which penetrate both the heart of God and every human heart
IV. The Icon Of The Descent Of The Holy Spirit: Liberating The World
The community of faith
The liberation of the world