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Archive for April 20th, 2018


Matthew 7:13-28: Duality One

Friday, April 20, 2018

Las siete partidas

We are about to close the third week of Eastertide, a time of dichotomy, paradox and challenge. How is it that Jesus the human lived and walked among us, was born of a woman, suffered, died and was buried, yet rose in divine form to show us his wounds and to remain with us forever? How do make sense of this seeming contradiction? How do we allow this incongruity to shape our lives? How do we share this surprising and healing conflict bring harmony to our lives? Today and tomorrow we reflect on these thoughts in a double post.

I am accustomed to using the word duality in my AP Literature class with students since it is the over-arching theme and technique of Spain’s Golden Age – a time of great abundance and great depravity, great discovery and great abuse, great hope and great corruption.  The Inquisition was winding down, mystics seemed to come out of the walls, with Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila are prominent, while conquistadores wrote fantastical chronicles about the New World.  Art, music and drama made Spain the center of the universe. A baroque dance of intertwining, opposing, harmonizing threads counterpoint and imbue one another with a newness not seen in single lines of music, simple poems, or lonely themes. Golden Age Spain understood how to straddle the worlds of excess and scarcity, how to live in liminal space and thought.

Diego Velazquez: Las meninas – The Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

We might name Spain the Crossroads of the World where northern Europe encounters Africa, the Middle East and the Orient, where the New World meets the Old.  It is a peninsula and a people in the habit of welcoming invading hoards: Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Germanic tribes, the Moors.  Dramatic binary opponents are at work: the first democracy among the noble class with Fernando II is a counterpoint to the harsh Inquisition and the Counter-Reformation.  The noble and gracious ideas of Carlos I/V Holy Roman Emperor are nearly annihilated by the fascism of Franco in the 20th century.  The Jarchas are sung and written – beautiful love poems by women who yearn for their men at war.  Science and philosophy are both welcome guests to this peninsular people who encourage the study of medicine, astronomy. In the XIII Century, Alfonso el Sabio (X) calls all known experts to Toledo to record what they know to form an early encyclopedias (Las Siete Partidas). They recorded rules for the games of chess, checkers and other strategic games; and the stories we treasure as children from the Grimm brothers to Scheherazade make their way to the Western World through this gathering of knowledge. In the modern era, Raúl Pateras Pescara invents the first truly flyable helicopter.

In a further dichotomy of reason and faith, this culture spawns scientists, rulers, theologians and philosophers. Both the Roman philosopher Seneca and the emperor Trajan are born in southern Spain. Miguel de Cervantes writes the first modern European novel, Don Quixote. In the new world, Sor Juan Inéz de la Cruz eschews domestic life to enter the Order of St. Jerome and became one of the century’s most known and most loved poet/playwrights. Latin American writers present the world with groundwork for the Magical Realism movement, literature of deep fatalism and deep faith.

We invite you to share dualities you find in your own lives in the comment bar. 

Tomorrow, living a life of duality. 


Adapted from a reflection written on January 12, 2009.

To find a definition of the word liminal, go to: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liminal

Follow links here to learn more about how others lived their experience of duality.

To dive into the world of  Spanish artists in the Golden Age of abundance and scarcity, spend time with the art of three outstanding painters: Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Spain boasted five playwrights who equaled the style, power, and influence of William Shakespeare: Juan del Encina, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Calderón de la Barca, and Lope de Rueda. Choose one link and explore. Or learn more about Spain’s Golden Age of Literature in the Britannica online at: https://www.britannica.com/art/Golden-Age-Spanish-literature

The mystic poetry of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila is in the same moment challenging and consoling. Explore here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/st-john-of-the-cross and https://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/christian/teresa-of-avila/prayers-and-works/index.html 

Images from: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/las-meninas/9fdc7800-9ade-48b0-ab8b-edee94ea877f and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siete_Partidas

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