Book Review: Behold The Beauty of the Lord: Praying With Icons – Henri Nouwen

Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with IconsBehold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons by Henri J.M. Nouwen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

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23 Things – Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

Week 3: Prayer and Meditation

5. Explore what Henri Nouwen has to say about prayer

6. Have some fun with your prayers and Pray in Color

7. Learn what makes Christian Meditation different from Eastern Meditation

This is week three of 23 Things. See last week’s post for the first four things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

Making All Things New – Hacked

Henri Nouwen, for all of his scholarship and academic pedigree, was a master at taking aspects of the spiritual life and making them accessible and appealing. I have read his book, The Way of the Heart, many times and his Return of the Prodigal Son is one of my all time favorite books. I have recently completed reading Making All Things New and would highly recommend it as an introduction to the spiritual life and to the use of two important disciplines – solitude and community. I have provided my summary notes below so that you also can draw key insights from this book.

Our Present State

– We all share the same human condition

– Resignation of our spiritual state keeps us from growing

– Our occupations and preoccupations fill our external and internal lives to the brim and leave no room for God

Setting Our Hearts On the Kingdom of God

– A heart set on the Kingdom of God is a heart set on the spiritual life

– Jesus was concerned with one thing: to do the will of his father

– Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. John 15:15

– Kingdom of God = rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us

– In the Kingdom, everything is a gift or challenge that strengthens and deepens our new life.

– Hearts set on the kingdom = worries will slowly move to the background

Spiritual Disciplines

– Spiritual Disciplines allow us to become attentive to the voice of God and respond to it

– God constantly speaks but we seldom hear it.

Solitude

– If God is who he says he is then he deserves our undivided attention

– We often use our outer distractions to shield us from interior noises

– We do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside time to be with God and listen to him.

– A day without solitude is less spiritual than a day with it.

– To fight distractions, use scripture as a way to focus.

– Solitude= living active lives in the world while remaining always in the presence of God

Community

– True community – always reveals to us who we are before God.

– Community is obedience practiced together

Conclusion

– Through solitude and community we try to remove the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice.

– Spiritual Life – active presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of a worry filled existence

– If we are faithful to our disciplines, a new hunger will make itself known. First, we will start to recognize God’s presence. Then we will be led deeper into the Kingdom of God. Finally, all thing will begin to be made new.