I am a Texas boy raised in a Southern Baptist church. I work at a private Baptist college. The use of Icons in Christian worship or spiritual practice is not something that has ever been in my spiritual heritage. Yet, when I saw that Henri Nouwen had written a book on the use of Icons, I knew that I could trust his direction and guidance. His book, The Way of the Heart, was an excellent guide to solitude and silence. He takes deep spiritual practices with nuanced types of uses and presents them as absolutely simple and doable. All while keeping a tone that is rich and bountiful and enduring. Though books like this are an introduction to the use of Icons, this is so much more than what you might find on a eHow.com page.
Reading this book I discovered how non-visual Christian religion can be, especially in Protestant circles. I would normally read from this book in the morning and the images would stay with me for much of the day. I realized how useful strong visual images could be for the spiritual life. Many people are very visual in how they process deep ideas, why isn’t there more efforts to use imagery to express ideas?
The only problem with an increased use of imagery in the Christian life would be how subjective our sense of art and imagery can be. For example, the Virgin of Vladimir is touching in the way the Christ child seems to be comforting the Virgin Mary instead of the other way around. But for me, the baby Jesus, with his adult features, is creepy looking and that distracts from the effect of the Icon. I know, Icons are not intended to be viewed in the same way you would view a Monet but these types of things often come down to taste and that means that not every Icon will touch people in quite the same way.
Though Nouwen’s interpretations of the Icons were somewhat puzzling at times, his enthusiasm and heartfelt approach was infectious and sparked my interests in pursuing Icons further.