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Book Review

Rowan Williams

Ponder These Things

ISBN 1 85311 362 X

Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2002, 7.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed May 2004;
© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2004

This is a small book, beautifully presented, with coloured pictures of the three icons discussed.  Although the original setting for the talks on which the book is based was that of a diocesan pilgrimage to Walsingham, the meditations are delightfully free of sentimentality and can be appreciated wherever one happens to be.  The focus of each icon is the visual features of it rather than associations that may be implied by other aspects of Marian devotion.

The three icons considered are the Hodegetria, she who shows the way, in which Mary holds the Christ child in her left arm, and points towards him with her right; the Eleousa, as depicted in the 'Mother of God of Vladimir' icon, in which Mary is holding the Christ child with both hands and the child is embracing her, his hands round her neck and their faces touching; and the Orans, an image from the primitive Church, a woman praying with hands extended and the Christ child depicted in a medallion hidden yet revealed in her body.  There is a fourth chapter, 'Weaving Scarlet and Purple', which recounts a legend of Mary from the time of the early Church, and this picture of Mary is expanded as a meditation for us to ponder as we read, and try to hear what Christ might be saying to us in our own contexts.

As one who at various times over the years has struggled with icons and failed to find them to be an aid to prayer, I was pleased that these meditations gave me a new appreciation of Mary and of some of the symbolism within each of the icons discussed, and some new perspectives on Christ, such that the use of the icons in prayer has extended beyond these written meditations.  In the Introduction, the author suggests that icons bring together the familiar and the foreign and so assist us to cross boundaries into a new space where we allow Christ to make his home in us, as Mary did so in a literal way. Also, as we recognise the energy of God in the icons so it becomes the energy of our lives, God in us.

Maureen CSF


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