Of pinpricks and painted scrolls

A review of ‘A World Transformed’ by Lisa Deam

A Chinese painter from the Tang Dynasty (7th Century) and a medieval historian from contemporary North Carolina are not two people whom you would necessarily expect to share the same page.  However, for the past week they have been jostling for head space during a week of hectic creativity.

Lisa’s book, ‘A world transformed’ has just been published by Cascade Books, and it makes for fascinating reading. It starts, quite literally, with the tiny pinprick at the centre of Hereford’s Mappa Mundi, and works outwards from there.  Lisa opens the reader’s eyes to the geography and spirituality of medieval maps in a way which I would never have believed possible before opening this accessible volume.  There is a disarming honesty from the author about her reasons for writing:

I wrote it because sometimes we feel lost on our journey of faith: we need to pause, pull over to the side of the road, and reach for a map to guide us.

Keep an eye out, too, for such memorable phrases as ‘walking the world with God’ which are sure to linger long after the book is closed. Unsurprisingly, all the references to the practice and theology of medieval pilgrimage are of particular fascination to me. However, where this book wins out is in its ability to apply such apparently distant lessons to contemporary Christian experience:

Like medieval pilgrims, we’re trying to close the distance between Jesus and us. We want to be closer to him and to become more Christlike each day. So we make the journey to Jesus, the center of our world, the very center of our heart.

Some will find that the level of detail in the book takes them into uncharted territory. Not only that, but the discussion about maternal images of Christ is sure to stretch the grey matter of the Christian mind. However, as Lisa herself would say ‘our pilgrimage roads point in the same direction’ so a little bit of unfamiliar material may be no bad thing.

CLICK to order the book from Amazon

CLICK to order the book from Amazon

And what of the Chinese painter? Wu Tao-Tzu lived in China between 689 and 758 AD. The story is told of the day when he called all his friends around to see his latest masterpiece. It was a long, vertical scroll with a painting of mountains, hills and a river valley. The twisting path in the picture led away into the mountains, before arriving at the door of a tiny temple in the distance.  When his friends turned around to congratulate him on the painting, he was nowhere to be seen. Turning back to it, they saw the tiny figure of Tao-Tzu walking up the final slope of the path towards the temple. At its gates he turned, waved, and clapped his hands before disappearing inside.

Tao- Tzu has gone – but if you would like to walk into the world of medieval maps, I cannot recommend a better guide than Lisa.

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