In this terse but enlightening volume, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, discusses the manifold meanings of four classical icons of Jesus (The Transfiguration, The Resurrection, The Hospitality of Abraham, and Pantocrator ). The author of Writing in the Dust: After September 11 honors icons not just as striking works of art but as "gateways to God." They are held in high esteem by Eastern Christians because "in their presence you become aware that you are present to God and that God is working on you by his grace."

The light of Jesus is an important element in The Transfiguration and The Resurrection. In the former, the light of Jesus, represented as a halo, falls upon Moses and Elijah. In the latter, Jesus pulls Adam and Eve out of darkness. Again and again, Williams ponders the meaning of the incarnation — God assuming flesh in Jesus and coming to Earth. Here is a fine description of one way of looking at it:

"Here, then, in Jesus is neither a human life that simply points to the divine (many lives do that), nor a supernatural visitation that is not grounded in the life we share on earth. And that's precisely the theological point. When we listen to a great instrumental performer or singer, we can sometimes sense that all their energy and life at the moment of performance is held and sustained by the great current of music that is becoming present and immediate in their actions; you can't separate them from the movement of the music, their present reality, muscles and nerves and breath and mind, is shot through with the music's 'life.' They are carried on its tide. That's a small and inadequate analogy for what this image is saying: Jesus' human life is shot through with God's, he is carried on the tide of God's eternal life, and borne towards us on that tide, bringing with him all the fullness of the creator. No wonder the disciples are sprawling helplessly; they face a tidal wave."

This brief but powerful insight is a perfect example of what icons can yield when they arouse true and deep devotion.