Monday, October 29, 2007

Illuminations

by Joyce DiPastena

I got a call Wednesday night from the editor of our local newspaper, The Copper Basin, asking me if I’d be willing to be interviewed about my new book, Loyalty’s Web. Now before you get too excited, you have to realize that Kearny, AZ has a total population of about 2500 people, which includes “households”, so the paper’s circulation is pretty tiny. Still, since I’ve never been interviewed by any kind of newspaper, even this was kind of exciting for me.

So far, people who have asked me about my book have been more interested in the writing and publishing aspects of my experience, than about the time period of my writing. So I have to admit, I was completely unprepared when the first question out of the interviewer’s mouth was, “Tell me about the Middle Ages.”

Tell me about the Middle Ages? That’s like asking, “Tell me about your church.” Where do you even begin? Fortunately for Church members, we were given some excellent tips in our last General Conference, and after all, there’s always the 13 Articles of Faith. But at which point of the thousand years of history that constituted the Middle Ages do I begin my story? I babbled something about agricultural advances after the fall of the Roman Empire, while my mind lurched desperately inside that blank space that inhabits the mind when someone approaches us with an overly-generalized question about any vast subject filled with fascinating details…if we only knew what detail they were looking for.

Fortunately, the interviewer eventually mentioned the predictable words: Dark Ages. As always, I bristle a bit when that term is applied to my favorite area of history. At that point, I could have launched into a discussion of dozens of examples to contradict the term…but what did my mind immediately snap to first? Dark vs. Light… What else, but illuminated manuscripts? These manuscripts were full of light, delicately painted pictures with jewel toned hues and glimmering gold leaf, illustrating bible stories or Saints’ lives alongside the meticulously calligraphied texts. Exquisite illustrations that shimmered when the light of sunshine or candlelight fell upon them, literally “illuminating” the Word of God to both the literate and the illiterate of the age.

Only that evening, when reviewing the conversation again in my mind, did I find myself wondering if there was another connection that drew me to that topic, beyond the dark/light issue. There were many other examples of various degrees of “enlightenment” that took place during this much maligned age. (Dark Ages, indeed! Do they think the Renaissance sprang out of complete nothingness?) But when it came down to crunch-answer time, what did I choose to talk about? Books. And in a few quiet moments of reflection, I felt a connection vibrating through the ages to a unique group of kindred spirits —medieval illuminators and their companion calligraphists—who loved and treasured books as I do, making books their life’s work just as some of us are striving to do the same, 1500 years later.

3 comments:

  1. Hey, Joyce, a newspaper is a newspaper. It's still exciting.
    This afternoon I was interviewed to fill my personnel file folder at the hospice where I'm now a certified volunteer. "Tell me about yourself," she said. I answered, "What do you want to know?" and we went from there. (I might add it took longer than she had promised.)

    You inspire me. I prick up my ears when I hear of Middle Ages, and want to glean every bit from you. (It sounds easier than real research, and you're much more interesting.)

    I always thought 'Dark Ages" referred to the loss of the apostles and the changes in the doctrines of Christianity. Or was triggered by the fall of Rome. Has there always been another country to take over the learning and cultural lead as soon as the leading country declines? How long between rises? Was the so-called 'dark ages' any longer than the time between the Greeks and the Romans, for instance?

    Shucks! I think I'm going to have to do some research after all. History books are not usually in depth enough to satisfy. But a good book like 'Loyalty's Web' opens new vistas.

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  2. Lovely conclusion, Joyce. Is it fair to ask for a list of possible questions and subjects ahead of time - like "Tell me about the Middle Ages." Sorry, I'm laughing - not at you, but at that situation. It's like someone requesting me to tell them about Algebra or, how's this, "Tell me about Science." The first thought is always, "Duh" flashing in neon colors against a suddenly dark and unilluminated mind. Good job. I'm sure you were terrific. Rene

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  3. Good for you, Joyce! Thanks to you I have been paying more attention to things written about the Middle Ages. Just today, I noticed that the text for the hymn "Jesus the Very Thought of Thee" is attributed to Bernard of Clairveaux, ca. 1091 - 1153. Now I am going to try to find out more about Mr. Clairveaux.

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