Donald JACKSON, Handwriter and illuminator, The Psalms. The Saint John’s Bible. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2006. $59.95 hardcover. ISBN 0-8146-9056-4.
Reviewed by Carol J. DEMPSEY, University of Portland, Portland, OR 97203

Imaginatively engaging multicolored panels set the tone for this magnificent biblical book on the Psalms. The calligraphy of each line, each verse, each stanza is flawless and represents artistic talent at its best. Each book of the Psalms is introduced by a multicolored scroll panel that recalls the opening page of the text, thereby giving the work artistic creativity.

The contents of the Psalms text consists of five books in four different colored print: Book 1, Psalms 1-41 in red; Book 2: Psalms 42-72 in maroon; Book 3, Psalms 73-89 in blue; Book 4, Psalms 90-106 in green; and Book 5, Psalms 107-150 in red. The colors themselves form an inclusion of sorts, with the first and last books being designed in red print. The translation used is the New Revised Standard Version. Included in the margins are various notes from other ancient texts, i.e., the Peshitta and Origen, that offer significant textual changes in translation which are noteworthy. This volume is one of several distinct volumes. The illuminator of the text is Donald Jackson, one f the world’s leading calligraphers who used eggs, feathers, calf skins, and handground inks, along with gold, silver, and platinum to create his work of art. The entire project was commissioned by Saint John’s Abbey and University to capture the ever ancient, ever new charism of the Benedictine monks whose daily focus is on Scripture. The project also expresses the monks’ commitment to study, art, and religious culture.

The leaves of each page of the text breathe with the creativity and artistic design of the Spirit found not only in the natural world but also in poems that capture the beauty of God’s creation, and the interaction of the Sacred in the midst of creation and human history. The very nature of the Psalms text as illuminated by Donald Jackson has a transformative effect on the hearts and minds of the text’s readers. This text reminds readers that such beauty is borne not only from artistic talent but also from patience and profound “centeredness.” This volume is truly a gift to our culture and our world, renewing not only the Benedictine spirit and charism but also the spirit of all who sit with this text in wonder and in prayer.

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