Behold the Beauty of the Lord / Henri J. M. Nouwen

Back in the 1990s, there was a fad where companies made prints with lots of swirly lines and dots and stuff. The claim was that if one crossed their eyes just so and focused in front of the picture or behind it or something, that a drawing of an animal or a sailboat would appear. I think it was all just a scheme to get a leg up on me. These pictures didn’t exist inside the whorls. Even with 3-D glasses, I doubt I would ever have been able to see these supposed pictures.

Cover of Behold The Beauty Of The Lord

That’s kind of how I feel reading Henri Nouwen’s Behold the Beauty of the Lord. I’m neither religious nor a navel gazer, so I’m not really the market for this book though. My mom, however, is. I got it for her, but since it was short I decided to read it before I brought it over to her. Nouwen describes the Eastern method of prayer as more focused on gazing, rather than listening. BY Eastern, I think he’s referring to Eastern Orthodox. So rather than sit quietly and contemplate and listen to God talking, one sits quietly and stares at a picture of an icon until some aspect of God becomes apparent.

Nouwen includes four icons in his study: Andrew Rublev’s The Holy Trinity, The Virgin of Vladimir by an unknown Greek painter, Andrew Rublev’s The Savior of Zvenigorod, and The Descent of the Holy Spirit by an unknown 15th century Russian painter.

Nouwen’s contemplation notes that one cannot make eye contact with the virgin in the icon. As he notes, the Virgin of Vladimir does not enter into our familiar reality; she invites us to enter with her into the eternal life of God. And that the stars on her forehead and shoulders indicate her virginity before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. I guess. There’s a lot of symbolism that icon painters made up and followed rigidly. But I would never have gotten any of that by gazing at it. Now, I did gaze at it for 15 minutes are so to see what happened. Nouwen writes of gazing for hours and hours over a period of weeks. So perhaps I am just not watching long enough. But I suspect a person needs to be steeped in religious belief to go where he went.

So I’m probably consigned to never really see what he saw.

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