In recent years, icons have increased in popularity. What makes an icon different from other types of sacred art? As Joseph Malham explains in Drawing Closer to Christ: A Self-Guided Icon Retreat, They are created not for the image themselves, but rather for the prayer involved in the process. They are designed to cultivate a relationship with the subject of the icon. As Most Reverend Robert Barron states in the Foreword, “The iconographer’s fundamental task is not merely painting, but prayer. Thus, the iconographer is not just the proponent of an artistic craft but a servant of the Lord. . . It is enough for the iconographer to be God’s instrument.”
Malham, who spent time as a novice at St. Meinrad Seminary, has been an iconographer and artist-in-residence at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Chicago, Illinois where he leads icon workshops, retreats, and lectures. Drawing Closer to Christ is designed as a seven day retreat, but participants can take as long as they need. The retreat is structured around the seven days of the Biblical creation story. Each “day” includes a theological reflection, a list of materials, and detailed instructions.
Malham explores many topics related to theology, iconography, and creativity in his beautiful reflections. They are both informative as well as inspirational. While the process of creating an icon can seem daunting, his instructions are very straight-forward, breaking complex tasks into simple steps. There are many helpful photographs, include several in full-color to help in understanding the process of creating an icon.
The icon that is created is that of Christ Pantocrator – Christ the All-Powerful, the Teacher (pictured on the cover of the book). “We honor the icon of Christ and reverence it because it is a created reflection of the human face of God in the flesh.” Creating this icon provides an opportunity to meditate on the mystery of the incarnation and allows us to develop a deeper relationship with Christ.
Anyone who has ever been interested in sacred art or the process of icon-creation will love Drawing Closer to Christ. Malham’s reflections were fascinating and offer much to ponder. While the book is designed for at-home use, it could also be a small group project. This book provides an innovative retreat experience, both prayer-filled and creative.
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