Robert LENTZ and Edwina GATELEY, Christ in the Margins. Orbis Books, 2003. pp.145. $20.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-814-0.
Reviewed by Arthur J. KUBICK, Providence, RI 02906

On the cover of this beautiful and inspiring book Christ gazes at the viewer through strands of barbed wire, holding them carefully with his wounded hands as he looks directly into one’s eyes. What question does he ask of us? How can we respond? “The Christ of Maryknoll,” one of the forty-one icons included in this book, sets the theme for this exploration of “margins.” The artist, Robert Lentz, challenges readers to examine our personal lives and cultural institutions. “The icon does not make clear which side of the fence Christ is on. Is he imprisoned or are we?” Do we and our institutions “try to imprison Christ in various ways, to tame him and the dangerous memories he would bring us of our goals and ideals”? This book asks us to cross borders, to see the world with new eyes.

For nearly thirty years Robert Lentz has been “writing” icons (as the Orthodox tradition says). Here he includes the familiar and the unfamiliar, the traditional and surprising. Each icon—along with his biographical insights on the person depicted—brings with it a radical interpretation of the Christian faith. Grouped into eight sections of five icons each, such as “Outcasts,” “Wisdom of the Broken,” “Holy Fools,” “Visionaries and Mystics,” Lentz presents us with persons as diverse as Ignatius of Loyola and Harvey Milk, Saint Clare of Assisi and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Apache Christ and Christ Sophia. All reflect the spiritual and social justice background he shares in the Epilogue: “Grandma showed me a transcendent, infinite God, and icons that spoke eloquently of that God. My father showed me a human Christ, still suffering in our midst and asking us to respond.”

Edwina Gateley brings a lifetime of living and working with the marginalized and outcast of society to the Reflections she writes at the end of each section, bringing together the theme with the five icons. For the icons grouped under “Wisdom of the Broken,” for example, she writes: “It is the broken, freely choosing to say yes to God in the midst of their chaos, who become aware of such speechless trembling before the Divine. It is the Johns of God, the Roses of Lima, the Joseph Bernardins, the Perpetuas and Felicities who stand before God and before us, beautiful and whole in their brokenness.” Founder of the Volunteer Missionary Movement with more than 1700 women and men having worked in 26 countries, Genesis House in Chicago, a house of hospitality for prostitutes, and Sophia’s Circle, retreats for women struggling to leave the streets and make changes in their lives, Edwina Gateley writes most effectively when she incorporates into these reflections her own personal stories of accompanying the marginalized of society. Occasionally her writing wanders over into sermon and exhortation, but the real-life experiences she shares about Sandy, Anna, Stella, Frank, and others place a very human face on the theme.

Besides being a valuable book for personal and communal reflection, it might also find its way into the high school or college classroom as a tool for discussion, research and contemplation. A course bringing together verbal and visual theology, for example, would find this an important resource, a springboard into conversation on the roles of words and images in human life—“What you gaze at you become…” (William Hart McNichols, SJ). However one uses this book, its icons and words remain, as Henri Nouwen said of all icons, “a holy place to enter and stay within.”

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