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…

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…

Clothed in the Image

  Begging my readers’ patience, I will take a small anthropologist tour through our culture. What I want to draw our attention to is the place of the image. We are not only fascinated with looking at images, we place them on our bodies as well: t-shirts, tattoos, hats, shoes, pants – in short, everywhere. There is nothing unusual in this. Were we to examine primitive tribes, we would notice a vast…

Goodness and a Word in Due Season

There is an old mystical Jewish belief that when God created all things, He did so by speaking their names (in Hebrew, of course). It was further believed (and here’s the mystical part) that if you could manage to speak that name in the right way, you, too, could cause it to be. The instinct behind this is true, regardless of our inability to do such a thing. That instinct is that…

The Icon of Unfallen Suffering

The so-called “problem of evil” garners enduring attention in our culture. I recall in my freshman philosophy class the conundrum was used as the “coup de grace” in the logical assault on God’s existence. “Not only does God not exist, He’s not even good.” Poor God. All of this is made even more poignant in our comfortable world of modern prosperity where minor setbacks are seen to unravel the universe. The fathers…

To See Him Face to Face

  “The self resides in the face.” – Psychological Theorist, Sylvan Tompkins +++ There is a thread running throughout the Scriptures that can be described as a “theology of the face.” In the Old Testament we hear a frequent refrain of “before Thy face,” and similar expressions. There are prayers beseeching God not to “hide His face.” Very clearly in Exodus, God tells Moses that “no one may see my face and…