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Iconography: A Writer's Meditation

Indiana University Press, Fall 2003. You can order this book through your local bookstore, the IU Press website, or you can purchase a signed copy by sending an email to sneville@butler.edu. Author royalties from this book go to the St. Rublev School of Iconography.

Iconography: A Writer's Meditation

From the book:
"I started this meditation on the first day of Lent. I hope to keep going every day until Easter. Every day i go fishing in the water of this internal voice. This week the water's still, this angled pen a blue sail, the hook is lazy in the estuary, the water the color of limes. So what if I don't catch a fish? I said that I would fish, that's all I promised. I bait the hook with each day's discipline. I have no guarantees that there is anything at all to catch in these particular waters, that something beneath the surface will grab my pen and pull me under."

Iconography is a spiritual meditation using the ancient art of icon painting as the central metaphor and frame. It's also a book about writing as a way of finding meaning. In her attempt to make sense of a life where the shopping mall is the place where you go to cheer up, Neville, a not particularly spiritual Every Woman, signs up for an icon-0painting class at the Rubliev School of Iconography, and the initial section of the book is a description of that ancient process as it takes place in the cellar of a monastery in downtown Indianapolis. This journey into interesting hidden worlds is one that Neville has taken before--into factories in her book Fabrication and into the secret histories of small Midwestern towns in Indiana Winter.

But halfway through this particular process, she begins to make mistakes--a slipped exacto blade, a brush that just won't get a highlight correct--and she decides to take a break. Instead of painting, she makes a vow to write for the forty days of Lent. The rest of the book is her journal, and as we follow Neville's sometimes painful attempts to tell the truth and get at the mystery of her existence, we realize that her writing is the spiritual equivalent of painting an icon. As she observes the world around her, and applies the paint of language to her observations, she realizes that spirit and matter are not separate, that now and then moments of meaning emerge from daily life, and the stillness and majesty of the universe shine through.