Monday, November 13, 2006

from madeleine l'engle's commonplace book

i just learned about commonplace books from lemony snicket, and it turns out i have had one for a long time ... the notebook in which i gather words and poems that i like. My poetry book includes stevie smith, dorothy parker, william blake, brian patten, a a milne, dylan thomas, jenny joseph, wilfred owen, ogden nash and sylvia plath. o, and gerard manley hopkins, she added. of course, like thousands of brits, my favourite poem has to be 'jabberwocky'.

anyway, i was reading 'walking on water' by madeleine l'engle. why? because i had finished the artemis fowl book from the library, i'd already read both patricia cornwells, and i wasn't in the mood for 'the star of redemption'. i like to have someone to talk to when i eat, and this book was on the top of the pile on my kitchen table. however, i got no further than the following quote from francis of assisi (p 25):

"In pictures of God and the blessed Virgin painted on wood, God and the blessed Virgin are held in mind, yet the wood and the painting ascribe nothing to themselves, because they are just wood and paint; so the servant of God is a kind of painting, that is, a creature of God in which God is honoured for the sake of his benefits. But he ought to ascribe nothing to himself, just like the wood or the painting, but should render honour and glory to God alone."

l'engle was talking about the symbolism of icons, but since i come from a tradition that proscribes the creation of images of the divine, that did not grab me. at first glance, it seemed to be simply about humility, that each human body is not actually divine, but rather a medium for the expression of the divine. and we should not get confused and start to believe our own press, i.e., that we deserve the kudos for being as wonderful as we are. then i started to think about, well actually the next thought was the picture of dorian gray. you know - the effect the decay of the soul has on the physical body. we do have some power over this creation - is it only the power to destroy?

what is the difference between humility and submission? perhaps humility is having no desire for kudos, and submission is either forced or voluntary acceptance of a power greater than one's self. while traditional jews are required to submit to the yoke of the commandments, they are free to choose so not to do. are the commandments the act of painting? and since we are in a covenantal relationship we have to take part in that act? or am i pushing this too far? hmmmmm.

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