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God bless the iconoclast

A couple of days ago, a dear patron saint of mine sent me an article by Parker J. Palmer, entitled “Taking pen in hand: A writer’s life and faith.”  (Christian Century, September 7, 2010)  The article had so much to say to me, as my patron saint knew it would, but it was Palmer’s treatment of iconoclasm I found particularly powerful.  An iconoclast, according to the dictionary, is one who assails cherished beliefs, a breaker of images.  Palmer writes that without a periodic deconstruction of religious images, we are in danger of idolatry, making gods of our symbols, stories, creeds and dogma.  And this kind of idolatry, to my mind,  is one very small step away from a rigid, close-minded elitism which can only too readily find expression in triumphalism, isolationism and even violence, as religious history attests.

holy cards: dead women talking was never intended to disparage or denigrate the women saints of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.  Quite the contrary, my admiration and respect for these women grew by leaps and bounds as I researched, then wrote about their lives.  But I do admit I was driven to write about them in large part by a great anger at how the saints had been represented throughout the years, a representation I felt mocked and trivialized their contributions.  So I set out deliberately to help them off their plaster cast pedestals and make them more human, more real.  I neither desire nor expect that everyone will be pleased with the result, but it is my hope that some will  at least consider  that the discomfort we may feel at the breaking open of these images could possibly lead us to a deeper truth about ourselves,  our tendency to pass judgement and our deep-seated fear of changing the status quo.

Palmer relates an old Celtic tale “about a monk who died and was interred in the monastery wall.  Three days later, the monks heard noises coming from inside the crypt.  When they removed the stone they found their brother alive.  He was full of wonderment, saying, “Oh, brothers, I’ve been there!  I’ve seen it!  And it’s nothing at all like the way our theology says it is!”  So they put him back in the wall and sealed the crypt again.”

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