Tag Archives: Art

November 10, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: x – ‘Not reinvention but rediscovery.’

 

Dogma helps hold people together in faith communities – but it does not inspire or animate. Faith is in the heart rather than the head. We grow in faith through relationships with others whose fidelity to Christ is a living experience. If we judge each other by what we believe in, we are setting up in and out groups – responsible for so many -isms; blood has been shed through this, and witch-hunts become inevitable – in no way conducive to Jesus’ stark love your enemies. But if we are to let-go the way of dogma – what do we replace it with? The new Evangelisation that Pope Francis is calling for! To set Jesus and ourselves free from the captivity of absolute dogma.

All over Africa, where Christianity is preached, churches are adorned with a white Christ, bearded and robed like an ancient Roman. Both Jesus and Mary were ethnic Palestinian – dark-skinned, of non-European features. Jesus as white and male became indisputable facts. Biologically no one can dispute the gender of Jesus. This isn’t attempting to create a patchwork quilt making Jesus all things to all people. This is not reinvention but rediscovery. If Jesus is God-incarnate – then Creation tells us that there is something of God in being male and female.

Most of our story as God’s people [6 million years] belongs to Africa; yet the demonising of blackness still feeds cultures of racism. Darkened skin is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human; it is the primary pigmentation that humans have known for most of our time – created, blessed and loved by God. We need to honour Jesus who belongs, not to the land of Israel, and even less to Western Europe, but to the primary soil of East Africa – just as the earthly Jesus belonged to every creed, colour and cultural condition.

The heart of the problem is not that Jesus was a man, but that men are not like Jesus! For thousands of years before Jesus males alone were considered to be fully human. They possessed the seed through which new life would be procreated – a view endorsed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Luther – with male offspring more valued than female. This is why Jesus, to be Messiah, had to be seen as descending through a male line.

But Jesus proclaiming the Kingdom is clearly not male in the conventional sense. He adopts none of the typical male behaviour characteristics: dominance, control… he engages with people, especially with the powerless made so by Church and State. Instead of protecting power he gives it away; instead of reasoned argument he tells stories – he is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table.

AMcC

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An evening with Julian of Norwich at Minster Abbey.

 

designer snail

Good Evening Friends,

Back we come from Wales to find a note from our contributor Monica (MT), inviting us to an evening of music, dance, narration and art at Minster Abbey on Sunday November  12, interpreting the revelations of Julian of Norwich.

It sounds interesting! Minster Abbey is a short walk from Minster railway station with hourly trains from London, Ashford, Canterbury and Ramsgate.

Follow this link to see the poster:

Julian of Norwich at the Abbey 121117

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29 October, Christ walking with travellers: IV. A journey around my room

piano2 (800x600) (2)

At the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre found himself locked up. He was more comfortably off than most prisoners, but still bored. He used his time to write a little book which he called A journey around my room. It can be found in the original French: here.

If for some reason we cannot go out – weather, illness, time of day, domestic duties – we can sit comfortably and begin our own journey, not just around the corners of the room but around the corners of our heart.

The lamp above my shoulder I made as an exercise on a college course many years ago in Hull, Yorkshire. That reminds me of my fellow course members, my tutors and friends, as well as Paul, a Hull man I often see down here in Kent. Thinking of them soon turns into a prayer.

Then there is the piano, not used much these days, but a bargain buy from a neighbour who was moving away. Think of her, and her son, exiled, perhaps for ever, from their native land; but at least she can walk along the street alone in Britain, free from fear and bare-headed, and still count herself a faithful Muslim.

The fire! We were glad to replace the ugly gas fire with something more in keeping with the house; everyone enjoys it on the special evenings when it burns.

Next, a nineteenth century engraving of a mother bathing her child before the kitchen range where elder sister, aged maybe seven, is warming a blanket, while father with an arm around mother, looks about to tickle the baby’s tummy. That was found in a Belgian flea market, brought home and remounted in a new frame. My wife’s keen eye at work!

To one side, an African carving of the Holy Family where Joseph is twice the size of Mary protecting his wife and the infant Jesus. But those two objects invite so much contemplation that I shall leave you there; perhaps to return to that corner another day.

Take a trip around your personal space and see where it leads you!

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28 October, Shared Table XVII: together around the table.

This post is more explicitly about the Eucharist than some others in this occasional series; but they are all about the Eucharist, which includes every meal shared in love.

I have been reading an article Facing the Lord’s Table by Thomas O’Loughlin1 where he discusses the positions taken up by priest and people in the Catholic Eucharist: either one man on one side of the altar-table and the rest facing across it to him, or in the older tradition, the priest facing the altar but also away from the people.

Neither of these is ideal, he argues. If two of us are eating together, we will usually face each other, the better to communicate; if there are more of us, we will sit around the table. Thus, in the first picture above, you’ll see how we have re-arranged ourselves for the photo, and we returned to our plates a moment later. In the Last Supper from Strasbourg Cathedral, like so many others, artistic licence dictates that those present are facing us – but we Christians share that same table in Strasbourg, in Canterbury, or wherever we may be in the world, so the gathering around the table is symbolically completed by the onlookers’ presence.

Dr O’Loughlin reminds us that at Mass, rather than in front of a carving, we are a community when we gather round a table; that is when we say Grace to bless the food and drink.

Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.

My brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.

1 Corinthians 10:17; 11:33

Dr O’Loughlin also suggests that an accurate translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer would have us standing around the table rather than just standing before God, and that this is borne out by ancient liturgical instructions about how the broken pieces of the loaf were to be set out on the paten for distribution.

He closes with these words: The theological bottom line is this: if the Logos has come to dwell among us (John1:14), then every table of Christians is a place where one could rub up against him at one’s elbow.

Now there’s a thought! Do read and digest the article if you can find the journal.

1In The Furrow, October 2017, p554-560.

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September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

chris-preaching

Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

car-lights

Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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September 18: To see each other as young Christs.

good shepherd mada3

Another reflection from Constantina which sits well after Austin’s wisdom:

I have been contemplating on reconciliation and ran one of our Franciscan area meetings on this theme. Apart from the discussions in small groups there seemed to be some reconciling going on between people with increasing understanding of each other. The spirit was at work in the most gentle way.

Some days later, sitting quietly at my easel I received a thought about the Apostles and their different natures and how Christ accepted them all as they were, even if frustrating at times.

I wondered then why, when we have groups or organisations, there is often some kind of censure for anyone who does not fit in to the developed ethos of the group. Why is it that we try to limit others to our own viewpoints or remain suspicious of anything or anyone who does not conform? Jesus certainly did not conform to the he established hierarchy of his time.

How can we really learn to let go of own preconceptions and prejudices?

 

I am not sure why I am wittering on, perhaps it is the pungent Lefranc gold size wafting off my large icon I am in the middle of gilding. I am doing a tall young Christ. There is a power in contemplating the young Christ and even the Christ child as we cannot put on them our adult opinions, we can only gaze in wonder at his wisdom. Perhaps we need to see each other in this way, as young Christs. Will limitless potential and possibilities.

 

God bless!

CW.

 

Constantina adds:

My young Christ is only in initial stages at the moment and will take most of the summer to complete. So do use the wonderful statue.

Thank you, Constantina, for  this reflection and the chance to contemplate the young Good Shepherd again! It’s good to be reminded that Jesus was not always a Victorian stained-glass, bearded man dressed in white and red, but a young and vigorous teenager, taking Life and his Father’s Will seriously.

Maurice.

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20 August, Shared Table XVI: A Welcome in Broadstairs.

shared-table-baptistsbroadstairs

We were in Broadstairs, my student, his mother and me. We needed to investigate the journey from home to the college he might be joining, a train ride and a walk onto unfamiliar territory for my student, who can find the unfamiliar challenging. But we were at our destination before he knew it.

On Queen’s Road where once I worked for two years, I found myself on unfamiliar territory. The Baptist Church Hall where Gill and I and our team had taught school drop-outs had disappeared, replaced by a lovely new building with a community café on the ground floor. In we went as it looked warm and by no means noisy.

A wise choice! There was time only for a welcome tea and slice of cake, but we warmed up (this was in January) and looked around. One waitress had learning disabilities but was coping fine under discreet supervision. Some of the customers clearly knew each other well, and were enjoying their meals and each other’s company.

This mosaic hangs on the wall of the café. It brings Broadstairs, represented by the beach, the harbour buildings and the houses, to the Lord, around his table: not a church table with a white cloth but a coloured, patterned one. Bread and fishes from the harbour; bread and wine: everyday fare made special by His sharing, by our sharing with him.

Another concrete prayer, that mosaic. Another concrete prayer, that café! Drop in if you are in Broadstairs.

MMB.

 

 

 

http://www.thegapproject.co.uk/

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11 August: Saint Clare of Assisi

Clare.800px-Simone_Martini_047

Leonard Chikasasa was a pioneer sculptor in Kungoni, Malawi. His 1973 ‘Prayer’ stands in the chapel of the Convent of the Poor Clares in Lilongwe, Malawi. In the video we see the statue at the heart of their worship.

Click on th link, and may your spirit dance on Saint Clare’s day!

Poor Clares, Lilongwe.

MMB.

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24 July: Let me count the ways – of saying thank you.

 

heart.of.pebbles

Fancy finding this at your garden gate!

We had been talking gardening with a neighbour, and ended by leaving a plant for her to rehome in her garden. When she returned to collect it she left this thank-you message. There are many ways to say thank you …

Even to people who would usually deflect any open acknowledgement of services rendered; this morning I’ve had smiles, a thumbs-up, a raised eyebrow, a few words about the weather. And a couple of explicit thank-yous.

Laudato Si’.

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11 June: The Holy Trinity – still a bone of contention!

In an earlier post about the art at Chichester, I discussed some of oldest works in the Cathedral – the Romanesque reliefs depicting scenes from the raising of Lazarus. This post brings us forward, to the twentieth century, and a work which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year – the tapestry by John Piper at the high altar. A photograph of the piece is available on the Cathedral’s website.

 

Known simply as ‘the Piper Tapestry’, this piece was commissioned by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester (1955-77). As parish priest at St Matthew’s in Northampton, and then as Dean of Chichester, Hussey was a great champion of the arts in the round – commissioning works of art and musical compositions, and inviting figures such as writers to give sermons.

 

The Piper Tapestry was part of a reordering of the quire in the 1960s. Hussey decided that an injection of colour was needed at the high altar and in 1963 approached Piper to produce a design to adorn the sixteenth-century Sherbourne screen. Hussey insisted that whenever something was added to a church in centuries past, it was executed in the contemporary style, and so it should be in the modern age.

 

Piper explored a number of different mediums before deciding upon tapestry – a medium which would sit comfortably alongside the screen, but which he could make his own. In fact, the piece consists of seven tapestries, hanging in each of the bays of the screen, which are read as a continuous design. This was Piper’s first work in this medium.

 

The subject of the tapestry also went through various iterations before the final conception, consisting of symbols of the Trinity (the dedication of the Cathedral) in the central portion, and on either side depictions of the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the beasts associated with the Evangelists (the man for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke and the Eagle for John). Piper had prepared a version of this scheme by the end of 1964, but at this point Lancelot Mason, Archdeacon of Chichester, raised an objection: in the central portion, Piper had included a Tau cross for the Son, a flame for the Holy Spirit, and a triangle for the Father. Mason objected that the triangle was a symbol of the Trinity and could not represent the Father; Piper would, Mason insisted, need to add another symbol.

 

Piper was unhappy about this request at a late stage in the process, having felt that the design had reached final form, but eventually he decided to add a white light, in addition to the triangle, giving the composition of elements that we see in the final design.

 

The tapestries were woven by Pinton Frères in Felletin near Aubusson in central France and installed in 1966. Their dedication took place at Evensong on 20 September. Hussey had certainly achieved his desired injection of colour into the space, but although he was delighted with the result, the public reception was rather mixed.

 

Both Hussey, and the local press, received numerous letters about the tapestries – some delighting in this bold introduction to the Cathedral interior, but others claiming that it was too garish; some even wrote that they could not take Communion before it. Perhaps the most famous objector was Cheslyn Jones, Canon Chancellor at the Cathedral, who reportedly wore dark glasses to the dedication service.

 

Fifty years later, in September 2016, the anniversary was marked with a prayer from the dedication service being read at Evensong, which was followed by a talk in which I told the story of the tapestry and shared some contemporary responses to it. The current Chancellor, Anthony Cane, dug out his own dark glasses for the occasion in a nod to his predecessor.

 

The occasion brought to life the richness of this piece and the regard in which it is held by the Cathedral community; at the end of the talk, I invited the audience to share their own thoughts on the tapestry.

 

A popular interpretation of the ‘air’ motifs – the most difficult element to depict in visual form – was that there is something of Sputnik I (the first artificial satellite, launched in 1957) in Piper’s choice of forms. Although I have not come across Piper mentioning this inspiration, this interpretation certainly resonates with the era of early space exploration at the time when the tapestry was created.

 

A memorable impression shared by another person was that the dramatic shard of red background in the central portion of the design can be seen as the opening of the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem, torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This biblical moment represents God’s presence bursting forth into the world, and the speaker who proposed this interpretation of the tapestry felt that the symbols in the central portion seem to burst from the surface of the hangings. Extending this reading to consider the other symbols included in the tapestry, we have a vision of God’s presence embracing all Creation – the world, beasts and humankind.

 

After fifty (one) years, Piper’s tapestry still feels daring and challenging, and doubtless does not please all. But, to paraphrase a participant in a discussion group I held about the tapestry, Christianity is not safe and wishy-washy, and so the tapestry continues to do important service to the Cathedral.

 

Further reading

 

Naomi Billingsley, ‘“A Magnificent Adornment to this House of God”? The Piper Tapestry at 50’, Lecture at Chichester Cathedral (22 September 2016).

 

Paul Foster (ed.). Chichester Tapestries. Lurçat – Piper – Benker: A Sequence of Exploration (Otter Memorial Paper 7) (Chichester: Bishop Otter College, 1991).

 

Walter Hussey, Patron of Art: The Revival of a Great Tradition Among Modern Artists (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985).

 

Simon Martin, John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism (Chichester: Pallant House Gallery, 2016).

 

Frances Spalding, John Piper. Myfanwy Piper. Lives in Art (Oxford: OUP, 2009).

 

A version of this post was published by Transpositions on 23 November 2016. 

NAIB.

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