When Icons Became Windows

Some thirty years ago I was doing doctoral work at Duke University under Geoffrey Wainwright. I was drawn to Wainwright on account of his commitment to liturgical tradition and practice as the ground of theology. A course that became a turning point in my studies was on the nature of language in theology. Like all work in the program, it was not a course filled with answers, but a careful discipline of…

Truth, Lies and Icons

As verbal beings, we live in a world of icons. We experience the world in an iconic fashion. A major difficulty for us is that we have lost the vocabulary of iconic reality. We have substituted the language of photography. The dissonance between reality and our photographic assumptions has led us to doubt both. Man is an iconographer and needs to re-learn what that means. +++ Franz Kafka famously wrote: “The Lie…

The Mythic Character of Reality

The friendship between CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien is well-known, as is Tolkien’s role in bringing Lewis to Christ. Less well-known (unless you dig a bit further) is Tolkien’s role in bringing Lewis out of a rigid and flat understanding of the world and into the rich possibilities afforded by “myth.” Without this conversion, Lewis would likely not have become a Christian, and certainly would not have authored the fiction that is…

Words As Icons

Creation has a sacramental purpose: it reveals God. For from the first making of the world, those things of God which the eye is unable to see, that is, his eternal power and existence, are fully made clear, he having given the knowledge of them through the things which he has made (Rom. 1:20) This is inherently true in things as they exist in nature. However, it becomes another matter as things…

The Demons of Our Time – Within Us

In 1872, Dostoevsky published his novel, The Demons [Бесы]. It demonstrated in a microcosm, the insanity that lay within the revolutionary movements of 19th century Russia. That insanity broke upon the world in 1917 and has remained present with us, in one form or another, ever since. The madness that he describes takes place in a small town, away from the great capitals of Russia. It involves a relatively small cast of…

The Life of Beauty in an Ugly World

In my last article, I described our personal existence as something that is not self-contained but found only in relation. Who-I-am is seen in the face of the one beholding me. There is an element of this in the perception of beauty that is worth noting. Some years ago, my wife and I visited the Grand Canyon. Its beauty is impossible to describe. I consistently felt frustrated with my camera – it…

Face to Face – Without Shame or Fear

We are apparently living in the age of the face, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.  I know all the complaints about our culture of “selfies,” and there are certainly many things in that to make us wonder, but our fascination with our faces long predates the technology of our phones. In the usage of the early Church, the word for face (prosopon) is also the word for person. It is…

Providence and the Music of All Creation

God’s being and actions are one. This is essentially the teaching of the Church on the topic of the Divine Energies. When I read discussions about this – it seems to get lost in the twists and turns of medieval metaphysics or passes into the territory of seeing the “Uncreated Light.” Both approaches are unhelpful for me, and both obscure something that should be far more transparent. Some of the obscurity comes…

The Goal of a Lesser Life

From my earliest childhood, I always heard the future spoken of in superlatives: the best, the best possible, etc. There was an unspoken assumption that each human being was uniquely suited to something and that if they found that unique thing and worked at it, they could become the best at something. Some of my early successes revolved around the piano. With a bit of work, I was able to excel beyond…

The Erotic Language of Prayer

The very heart of true prayer is desire, love. In the language of the Fathers this desire is called eros. Modern usage has corrupted the meaning of “erotic” to only mean sexual desire – but it is a profound word, without substitute in the language of the Church. I offer a quote from Dr. Timothy Patitsas of Holy Cross in Brookline: By eros we mean the love that makes us forget ourselves…