Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review: Signs and Mysteries

Mike Aquilina's newest book, Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols, from Our Sunday Visitor, is a great read and a great reference book in one.

It's also an exquisite piece of art, thanks to the illustrations by Lea Marie Ravotti. (Do yourself a favor and click through to her site. Her work is gorgeous.)

It's so easy to take illustrators for granted, isn't it? But one cannot do so with this book. The illustrations are integral; the book is, after all, about looking more closely at symbols, visual representations of the life of faith. It won't do merely to talk about them. We need to see them. And see them we do, beautifully rendered by a gifted artist.

But the other thing we can't take for granted is the explication of these powerful, enduring symbols, and the importance of a knowledgable guide. We need a guide who can gently but firmly impress upon us the power that is present in the visual language we're touring:

These symbols are, in one sense, quite ordinary; they are commonplace items from everyday life in the ancient world. And so we might take them for granted, overlook them. But they're there for a reason ...

When we see these signs, how can we help sensing we have received an urgent message, telegraphic, cryptic, from a distant family member?

If it would be an injustice to merely talk about the symbols without illustrating them, it would be an equal injustice to focus only on the visuals. Signs and Mysteries takes us on a pilgrimage of sorts, delivering those urgent messages from our ancient brothers and sisters in Christ, because, as the author tells us of these symbols:

The first Christians traced those lines because they wanted them to stand forever as a perpetual prayer, for remembrance of the dead, for the perseverance of the living, and for deliverance in times of trial.

Exploring these ancient (but still relevant) symbols is far more than an archaeological exercise. Signs and Mysteries may be a fascinating read and a valuable reference, as well as a visual feast, but it is also about connections to our Christian family. It is a personal book in the best sense of the word -- a book that connects us, through a shared and vital language, to the person of Jesus Christ.


Theresa said...

Oooh! Sounds fascinating!(adding to Christmas wish list)

Karen Edmisten said...

It is fascinating. I was often heard saying, "Hey, you guys, listen to this!" as I read. :-)