Tag Archives: change

Congratulations to Naomi!

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Naomi Billingsley, who writes for Agnellus Mirror sometimes as NAIB, has just had her book published. We haven’t yet had time to read it properly but thought we’d tell you about it at once, in case it sells out before you get chance to buy it.

Our friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses often point out to me what they see as ‘design’ in Creation. My reply has always been to say, yes, but designer is just too inadequate a word. It conjures up a drawing board and ruler  and compasses, whereas Blake, according to Naomi, sees God as an artist, a being bursting with loving imagination.

WT.

Here follows the review on the publisher’s website:

William Blake (1757-1827) is considered one of the most singular and brilliant talents that England has ever produced. Celebrated now for the originality of his thinking, painting and verse, he shocked contemporaries by rejecting all forms of organized worship even while adhering to the truth of the Bible.

But how did he come to equate Christianity with art? How did he use images and paint to express those radical and prophetic ideas about religion which he came in time to believe? And why did he conceive of Christ himself as an artist: in fact, as the artist, par excellence?

These are among the questions which Naomi Billingsley explores in her subtle and wide-ranging new study in art, religion and the history of ideas. Suggesting that Blake expresses through his representations of Jesus a truly distinctive theology of art, and offering detailed readings of Blake’s paintings and biblical commentary, she argues that her subject thought of Christ as an artist-archetype. Blake’s is thus a distinctively ‘Romantic’ vision of art in which both the artist and his saviour fundamentally change the way that the world is perceived.

From King’s College London, where Naomi completed her MA:

Naomi Billingsley is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the John Rylands Research Institute at the University of Manchester. Her research is at the intersection of the histories of Christianity and art in Britain, especially in the Romantic period. Her current project ‘The Formation and Reception of the Macklin Bible’ examines an important illustrated Bible, published between 1791 and 1800.

Naomi completed her PhD at the University of Manchester (2012-2015) on the figure of Christ in William Blake’s pictorial works. She was then Bishop Otter Scholar for Theology and the Arts in the Diocese of Chichester, and taught Art History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Naomi is a graduate of the MA in Christianity and the Arts (2011) and holds a BA in Theology and Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge (Magdalene, 2010). 

The Visionary Art of William Blake: Christianity, Romanticism and the Pictorial Imagination
Naomi Billingsley

I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2018.

 

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10 May: What is theology saying? V: Development of doctrine is a work in process

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Life is always in process, and all possible developments cannot be foreseen; there is a time-lag between the first experience of a new way and the discussions of theologians, and then the new way of formulating a doctrine. This means that the practice of the faithful will be in place before official pronouncements; which means that even when the pronouncements are made, life will again have moved beyond that point and the theologians will be trying to follow life.

However, some seem to think that the developments that happened in the past completed everything, save a few minor points. Before Vatican II this was a widely accepted view; but anyone who has taken care to read the documents of Vatican II will see how development of doctrine is very much a work in process; with any issue being revisited for further discussion. As regards the past we can judge what in fact true development was. For the present and the future we must live with risk, not having access to absolute certainty. This means remaining open to truth, no matter from whom or from what it may come. Just another way of saying – we live by faith and not by sight.

Life and growth of the Church, including the development of her teaching, cannot be without conflict; sometimes conflict is painful, but need not involve bitterness or hostility – exclusions and condemnations are not necessary. Those who have most furthered the doctrine of the Church have usually been persons who acted discreetly and patiently, without fearing the truth of their own experience, insight and learning.

AMcC

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6 May: What is theology saying today? I: How to change without losing the essentials.

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Secular society changes its laws, its structures and even what it believes. Most of us have been brought up to believe that the Church did not do this. The answers given in the catechism would always be valid; God guides the Church to teach truth.

Indeed, people worry when it seems the teaching is changing. Examples: more inter-faith dialogue; greater involvement of the laity in Church matters; relaxing the laws of fasting; changes in the Mass… People are entitled to worry about these things, and are entitled to ask questions before accepting such changes. Changes are not necessarily good. We need to know what to change without losing the essentials.

Theology tells us there is only one good way to discover the criteria for change – it is the common sense way of looking at the history of Church teaching. Teaching developed very slowly and even stormily over the ages.

Jesus did not give the Apostles a catechism or creed. They didn’t explain things as they are explained now. The Apostles and generations after them would not have understood the catechism. They probably would have said it went against the teachings of Jesus, and made everything complicated. The Catechism was accepted as Church teaching on faith and morals.

Church teaching has constantly changed and will continue to do so. But if we would understand what is happening now we need to ask about the process used for changing explanations of faith and the rules of morality in the past. Newman in the 19th Century was very concerned about this. As an Anglican he pondered the claims of the Catholic Church to make pronouncements about doctrine – how would one know what was a true development of doctrine and what was erroneous? The Protestant Churches at that time accused Catholics of changing the teachings of Jesus constantly.

Newman’s basic premise for change: doctrines are ideas, ideas always change because they exist, not in books, but in people. Ideas change as people change through varied experiences and new insights resulting from them. When our experience of living in our world changes because of new inventions and the discoveries of science, our ideas about everything will be shaped accordingly.

AMcC

Roman Gate, Lincoln.

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22 August: J is for junctions

 

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I’d rather show you this than a motorway junction! We are at Ashford International station in Kent, where I change trains on my way to work most weeks, and where occasionally we change trains en route to France, Belgium or beyond.

A junction on the motorway  does not give chance to stop and stare, as one can at Ashford International. Where is that woman going, I wonder? My son’s friend from school greets me as he goes about his work on the platform.The sparrows chatter over a few crumbs tossed around one of the benches.

The non-stop Eurostar roars through to Paris, a life-changing trip for some. And those alighting from the inbound Eurostar: will they feel welcome on English soil? I once met a former pupil who had completely changed his name – not even using the same initials – to start a new life here with his young lady, forty miles from where he had lived with a neglectful mother and stepfather. Every day is new!

And always there are the anxious ones who do not trust the departure boards or announcements, sometimes with good reason. They ask the platform staff, is this the right train? They get on board, they ask their fellow passengers, is this the right train? If the guard comes by, they ask, is this the right train? On the train they make for the door as soon as their station is announced, unaware it is five minutes or more away.

My friends, there actually is time to stop and stare, so sit back and relax!

Oh, there’s my train coming in: I’d best make sure I ‘join the correct portion of the train’, or who knows where I’ll be! Safe home!

MMB

 

 

 

 

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July 6th: Readings from Mary Webb, V: we cannot see – we never see.

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Today’s reading and tomorrow’s invite us, as Mary Webb challenged us yesterday, to be merely receptive. Laudato Si’!

The story of any flower is not one of stillness, but of faint gradations of movement that we cannot see. The widening and lengthening of petals, the furling and unfurling of leaves, are too gentle for our uneducated eyes. The white convolvulus that flowers only for a day meets the early light folded as if with careful fingers, and dusk finds it folded in almost the same way. You would think that the stillness had never been broken; yet between dawn and twilight the flower’s lifework has been completed in one series of smooth, delicate motions. The hour of the pointed bud has been followed by hours of change, until the time of the open blossom and the feeding bee; and even in that triumphant moment a faint tremor shook the spread corolla, and the final silent furling had begun. During the whole drama the flower has seemed stationary – and we never see.

Watch a bank of periwinkle on an early summer morning. The fresh blue flowers are poised high on delicate stalks, and seem aloof from the leaves. Absolute stillness broods over them; no tremor is discernible in leaf or petal; the wide blue flowers gaze up intently into the wide blue sky. Suddenly, without any breath of wind, without so much stir as a passing gnat makes, one flower has left her stem. No decay touched her; it was just that in her gently progressive existence the time for erect receiving was over. Some faint vibration told her that the moment had come for her to leave off gazing stilly at the sky; and so, in silence and beauty, with soft precipitation, she buried her face in the enfolding evergreen leaves. This pale shadow of a gesture is as lovely, as inevitable, as the flight of wild swans beating up the sky.

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24 February: Saint Matthias

 

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We remember the story of Judas Iscariot well enough: the betrayal, the suicide, the purchase of the Potter’s Field; but also his constant presence with the Lord, his care for the material goods of the infant church, the easy temptation to despise and condemn the extravagant gesture of Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfumed oil (John 12:1-8), the concern for the poor… Not a bad man, but one lacking wisdom and humility.

judasWithout him, the Church was an Apostle short. Jesus did not replace Judas – I agree with the artist at Strasbourg Cathedral who has the Lamb of God releasing Judas from his tree, an Apostle still in Jesus’ eyes – but the Apostles decided to make up the dozen again. They wanted to strengthen their group by adding an eyewitness:

with us all the time that the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, until the day wherein he was taken up from us, one of these must be made a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. Acts 1:21-23.

Matthias was chosen by lot, as the two men were equally worthy. And then we hear no more of Matthias, either in Acts or in the Epistles. Why? Well, along came Pentecost, and the Apostles scattered to tell the Good News to the whole world. Matthias is believed to have ministered around the Black Sea in Georgia and to have been martyred there.

The Church faced new challenges in those early days. First to make up numbers to maintain the structure of twelve Apostles set up by Christ, but then to abandon that structure, for most of the twelve to abandon Jerusalem, and to establish new structures in Egypt, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Italy, Georgia …

Which structures are we being called to renew, which to abandon? Which new ideas are we called to nurture? Let us pray that the Spirit, who came down on Matthias with the rest of  the Apostles and more than a hundred other women and men, will fill the hearts of us the faithful and kindle in us the fire of love and wisdom.

MMB.

Pentecost by TJH

 

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12 February: Wonder and Bewilderment.

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I  call Friar Chris’s posts this week ‘Reflections from St Thomas’s Hill’ and I enjoyed rereading them, one after another, when I’d slotted them into the blog calendar. You may like to go back through them at the end of the week. Will.

 

BOing! was a Festival for children held on the Kent University campus over the last weekend of August 2016. This strange structure, called Mirazozo Luminarium by Architects of Air is like a series of neon-lit tent tunnels, winding paths through beautiful green and red light and colour. The visitors’ playful antics are transmitted by CCTV to other places on the campus. Is this wonder, fantasy or anti-reality? It is like the children’s games used by primary school teachers, such as asking groups of six children how they imagine a space creature, with suitable bodies and facial expressions. They move around to eerie music such as comes from a Moog synthesizer. Making a ‘Spooky Garden’ is another game like this, with play-acted statues.

But internet and video games nowadays can make this virtual world normal for many adults. Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) saw much modern experience as “mass bewilderment in the face of accelerating change.” There is disproportion between our low human complexity and high technological special effects. Emmanuel Sullivan (Baptized into Hope), as an Anglican Franciscan, asks how we develop sensitivity to those around us. “The ongoing mystery of creation and redemption is a meeting of waters, of life and values, of thought and emphasis. At times it is a gentle flowing together; at others the meeting takes place in a mighty roar.” God gives us, if we are open, “the courage and love we need to tolerate and integrate a diversity of Christian life and witness.” But we must consider, are we moving effectively on from fantasy and eerie music to solutions for bewilderment, a genuine witness to hope?

CD.

January 2017.

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31 October: ‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’

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(Sculptures in Assisi, near Domus Pacis)

 

‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’

Lk 14:12-14

I work as a volunteer in a community centre that provides food for homeless people.  Working in the Centre has exposed me to meeting different people with different needs. Some just need someone to notice they exist, some just want to be left alone, while others would like to chat.  One particular client created a deep impression on me.  He was man of middle age.  Looking at his face and disposition, I wondered what made him always happy and smiling. It was obvious he could not boast even of basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.  One day, I summoned courage to ask him why he was on the streets.  This was his response: “you know sister, as an ex-convict it is difficult to find a job” but he told me he was determined to stay ‘clean’. His response made me admire his courage and wish I could do more to help him. There is this tendency of mine to write myself and others off because of one mistake or other, but everyone given the chance is capable of changing from bad to good decisions.  I thank that man and others at the centre for helping me “learn to love without condition. Talk without bad intention, and most of all care for people without any expectation” (The Essence of Life).

FMSL

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10th February, Ash Wednesday: A Change of Heart

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(Image from www.franciscanalliance.org )

Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 50; 2 Corinthians. 5:10, 6:2: Matthew.6:1-8,16-18

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, marked by services of penitence.

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, alms giving atonement and self-denial.

Literally, it means a change of mind and heart and attitudes.  This point is vividly illustrated by the first reading when the prophet Joel tells us, ‘let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn’ (Joel 2:13).

What does change of mind and heart mean, and how can we do it?  There is a sense in which we cannot effect it – all that we can do is to be attentive to God and let him do the transforming. A real change of mind and heart means an inner surrendering of my own life to God, so that whatever I do, I do in his Spirit: with him, for him and through him.

Alms-giving is a generic term which expresses the practical nature of our love for others.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us against play-acting good deeds in order to be seen.

Fasting from wrong doing is more important than from food. There is inner fasting of the mind, which is letting go of past resentment, breaking down the barriers which separate us from God.  Like fasting, alms-giving is both a means which helps us to pray, and also the result of prayer. If our prayer is genuine, then the spirit of God takes hold of us and we shall begin to feel more at one with him and with creation.  We do not just fast and pray for people but give them a practical proof of our love which makes us ambassadors for Christ, as St Paul tells us in the second reading. Our hearts, like Christ’s will be moved with pity, and we shall begin to feel for our neighbours as we feel for ourselves. May God help us in conversion of heart this Lenten season Amen.

 

FMSL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alternative Images of Christ

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mercylogoThe notion of Christ as a sea-faring Saviour was particularly appropriate for writers in a Mediterranean setting, and was used by several authors. There is still a hint of it in Bonaventure, when he refers to making time for prayer as a way to escape danger, behaving like a sailor hastening to a harbour that is safe. Perhaps it helps to bring to mind an image of Paul and Silas travelling amongst Gentiles. But other images can also stir the mind to imagine Christ as having transformative power. His energies can bring strength in other social settings such as a mill, a wine-press of a family’s agricultural plot with its trellises and lattices. ‘Grapes being turned into wine’ is obviously a transformation metaphor. It tells us that Christ’s merciful energies can bring relief where our labouring efforts to gather a crop exhaust us.

Bonaventure also draws a parallel between the wood of a trellis for a vine and the wood of the Cross. “The beams of the gibbet are crossed; our Vine, the good Jesus, is lifted up on it; his arms and his whole body are forcibly stretched out – with such distorting violence… that all the joints of his frame can be counted.”

In the Chester Mystery Plays too, the workmen stretch Jesus excessively because his arms do not match the points for the nails. Yet the meditation here too must be on how Christ came in the midst of humanity’s uncaring destructiveness purely to bring love. He gave us that mystery of love despite our blindness.

CD.

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