Oh, the futility of seeking to convey (from Self-Annihilation and Charity Lead the Soul...)

by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes
Original Language Italian

Oh, the futility of seeking to convey
With images and feelings
That which surpasses all measure!
The futility of seeking
To make infinite powers ours!
Thought cannot come to certainty of belief
And there is no likeness of God
That is not flawed.

Hence, if He should call you,
Let yourself be drawn to Him.
He may lead you to a great truth.
Do not dwell on yourself, nor should you --
A creature subject to multiplicity and change -- seek Him;
Rest in tranquility, loftier than action or feeling,
And you will find that as you lose yourself
He will give you strength.

-- from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

<<Previous Poem | More Poems by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) | Next Poem >>


/ Image by MustafaDedeogLu /


View All Poems by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

It is a blustery morning here in Colorado. The last of Autumn's leaves are being blown from their branches to swirl and spin against a graying sky. It's a moody day. Reading today's poem is inspiring some cantankerous observations...


Thought cannot come to certainty of belief
And there is no likeness of God
That is not flawed.


The great monotheistic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- lay particular emphasis on avoiding idolatry. In its most literal form, this is understood as the injunction against making an image of God and then worshipping that image. But the way Jacopone da Todi phrases it implies that the world is filled with images of God, all of which are flawed. And he is correct: the world is packed with imperfect images of God, yet only a small percentage are found in paintings or sculptures.

Even when we worship at the most unadorned altar, still we carry an image of God before us -- in our thoughts. That's where the vast majority of the world's idols reside. We, each of us, carry an idea of God in our minds, constructed from what our parents and friends believe, what our religion teaches us, what society tells us. Even the most staunch atheist carries this mental idol, but names it something else. The mind's idol is that which we worship and give ourselves to. It is that which we are attached to, that which gives us identity. It is whatever we continuously fixate on. That idol may be money or position, a great romance or a great accomplishment. It can be service or escape. It can be truth. It can be love. It is what glows in our mind's eye, continuously calling to us. It is that which we have dedicated our life force to, for good or ill. That is the image we have placed on our internal altar and worship daily -- whether we think of it as worship or not.

These internal idols, even the most transcendent and elevated, are flawed, however, because they are built from a mixture of mental concepts, unexamined impulses, and one's imperfect sense of self, all of which are necessarily limited and, therefore, incapable of encompassing the All.

We must never make the mistake of thinking that our limited mental ideas of God are the same thing as God. Only God is God. Only the All is All. Anything else is a mental shorthand and, therefore, less than the Fullness we seek. Our thoughts about God are, at best, stepping stones along the journey. They must evolve and expand as we move ever closer to the Reality we have been trying to imagine. If those mental concepts and goals remain fixed, then we have become stuck... and have fallen into the real trap of idol worship.

This is a key problem with religious fundamentalism. It requires us to set up an unchanging image of God in our minds. By definition, fundamentalist belief is built on rigid mental constructions of who and what God is. Fundamentalism is idol worship.

For this reason, it always seems hypocritical to me when someone denigrates Hindus, for example, as "idol worshippers." It is our mental idols that stand in our way, not the physical ones. We are all idol worshippers, regardless of what rests upon our altars. We are all idol worshippers, that is, until we lose ourselves in the full vision of the Divine. So called idol worshippers are often more likely to understand this truth than the most puritanical monotheistic sects.

Whether or not we show reverence to a picture or a statue, let us not be snared by the idols of the mind and, instead, yield more and more into the full vision of the unlimited and fluid Reality that is our true home.

Rest in tranquility, loftier than action or feeling,
And you will find that as you lose yourself
He will give you strength.



Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty
===
Amazon or AbeBooks
Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality)
===
Amazon or AbeBooks
All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time
===
Amazon or AbeBooks







Oh, the futility of