Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Giving Too Much

Illustration from 'The Man Who Gave Too Much'
Even or perhaps especially in churches, there are rituals. They have no material significance, mostly, except for the fact that we all dutifully follow them. One such is the insistence of my local chaplaincy to use the  word "trespasses" instead of "sins" in the Lord's Prayer. 
When I was a child, trespassing meant hopping over the gate on to Farmer So-and-So's land and shooting his birds and was vastly different to sins. You went to hell for those. Or so my imagination told me.
Childhood. What marvellous, fertile ground in which thorns, briars and good seed have an equal chance of successful germination. A friend whom I have never met, but I know, has written a book, one of several as it happens but this one is for children. She is an Oxford English graduate - not one of those whose faces have been screwed and desiccated by criticism of others - instead her use of words is honest, wide-eyed and lyrical, sometimes breathtakingly so. Which is why I say I know her, meaning I respond to her writing with delight as one curious human being to another, almost as a child might.

Which is fortunate, since Anita Mathias' new book "Francesco, Artist of Florence" or 'The Man Who Gave Too Much' is a small, poignant testament to goodness. It is "good seed". It takes good people to create other good people and Francesco the Florentine, always selling his beautifully inlaid work at ridiculously low prices, is a good, good man. He has no head for business, he justifies his knockdown prices by all kinds of emotional acrobatics, and worries that his wife will scold him for not making enough money. This little book is about forgiveness, not least in learning how to forgive ourselves. For this reason, children of a certain age, full of misdemeanor and transgression, unless their fundamental goodness is established early and they learn that "forgiveness of trespasses" carries with it a completeness and totality that extends even to their own follies and mistakes, often fail later to practise the delicate but necessary art of forgiving themselves.

This book is a small, beautifully illustrated tool in the hands of an artful, imaginative parent. It should be read aloud to children, talked about, prayed with.
Anita is a master of awe and wonder. The illustrations perfectly complement a little story with the same captivating prose as "The Little Prince" and will be the kind of book that will remain on a child's shelf, like a favorite stuffed toy, and when they are grown , they will read it again to a new, wide-eyed and curious little person.

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