Tag Archives: Cross

20 May: About an Icon.

Croix Rousse large

This is my last blog of the week and I would like to write a little about an icon I have written.

This Croix Rousse was written as a gift for Bishop Chad in Harare, in response to a talk I heard on the persecution of the Christian church there. It took a good eight months to complete and I had never written an icon of the crucifixion before.

There are elements to working with icons that are unexpected – insights; deep feelings; new ways of seeing and in one case, a continual stream of quantum physics (when writing an icon of Elijah!)

Christ’s emaciated body hangs on the cross in a pose of absolute peace and composure. He bears the wounds of the nails and the spear. The vinegar dipped sponge is being hoisted to his lips. Jerusalem is in the background by the bar at his feet and the cross rests on ground where Adam was purported to have been buried. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.

Mary, Mother of God, weeps by his right hand and John, his favourite, stands at his left. Above his head is the inscription INRI and above that an empty throne with an open Bible and angels around it, awaiting his Resurrection. The Sun and Moon are symbols of the Old and New Testaments and the circle of the cosmos is at the very top. The power of Almighty God.

Iconographers work form dark to light and each pass of the icon is a level of refinement from rough to smooth and more exquisite detail.

During one profound moment before I parted with this gift I looked at the holes in Christ’s hands and for a nanosecond I seemed to be able to travel across the whole of space through a deep black pinprick of emptiness. The holes in his hands have now become a symbol for me as a gateway leading to Christ. Our Franciscan habit of adoring Christ Crucified has taken on a deeper meaning.

CW.

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12 May: Reflection: The river of life

river.monnow. 

I remember spending a week in the house of a friend, on the bank of the river Monnow, in the Welsh borders. The sky arches over rich pastureland and rising hills. As the light of day fades, bats tumble and spin across the darkening sky. And night and day the river runs, playing over the rocks and shaping the land. I remember and am stilled by the sound of that river. The river is movement and presence: always new, yet older by far than I who hear it.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing in exile from his homeland, wrote of another river, flowing from the Temple, the dwelling place of God:

water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple…and it was a river that could not be crossed…This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river flows, every living creature that swarms will live…everything will live where the river goes. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food…their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.

  Ezekiel 47

The river of the life of God brings life to the place of death and decay; it is always creative, fruitful and medicinal.

Perhaps one way of thinking about the incarnation is as the pouring out of the life of God into all being like Ezekiel’s river. This river of the Word made flesh flows not only through green pastures but desert places, and because of the river, barren wastelands live. Because of Christ’s life, suffering, dying and rising there is no place of human struggle and despair where the river of hope will not and does not flow. This does not mean that we do not continue to experience pain, or no longer struggle to make sense of suffering. Christ still feels the pain of nails in his hands and the rejection of those who had been his followers; yet Christ is also risen, the tombstone rolled definitively away. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus dies, blood and water flow from his side. This moment of death is also the outpouring of life. A river flows.

The river always runs, and we are caught up in its flow; more than this, through the gift of God we discover this same river flowing within us. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman:

If only you knew what God is offering…you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water…Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give will turn into a spring within, welling up to eternal life.

John 4: 10-14

It was at night, when the last sheep call faded into the twilight, and the earth stilled that I heard most clearly the river running. Not that it wasn’t always flowing, but the sounds of the day, and the noise of my own activity prevented me from hearing it clearly. There are moments in the world of here and now when we hear the river flowing within all things and know this same river is the source of our own being, becoming and giving.

The river flows from the Temple of God, and sometimes, sometimes even at night, we hear it running. Wherever the river flows, through our own meanness and narrowness of heart, through the pain of loss or cruelty of others, unexpected trees grow with fruit for healing: – for our own easing, and to be shared with others.

CC.

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11 May: Getting in the Way

garden.gate.metal. cc

 

There are times when life doesn’t go our way. We make plans, and unanticipated events unmake them. It can be as simple as a delayed train, or as devastating as sudden ill health. We are going along, with some idea at least of what shape our day might take, or what form our life might take, but then everything unravels in the face of something we didn’t expect. We are left asking, ‘Where am I? Where do I go now?’

The unexpected happening gets in the way. If it’s a pleasant surprise we’re happy to be diverted, but even then we might feel a little thrown. But when something painful, difficult or threatening crashes in, we can be shaken to the core, bewildered by the turn of events and left with no clear sense of our bearings. I remember sitting down on a London bus and looking up to see the notice by the door: ‘NO WAY OUT’…not the sort of message you hope to receive when life feels uncertain!

There is another sense in which we sense something or someone stands in our way. We have a good intention, even one we sense comes as gift of the Spirit; but we also see an obstacle and it seems formidable. Perhaps it’s about finding work that is meaningful and makes a difference but the jobs don’t seem to be there. Or perhaps we sense we have something to give but doubt that it will be valued by others. Or perhaps it is a persistent call we sense to place our daily life more deeply in God, but we can’t seem to find the time or the means to pray.

Seeing the barrier on our mental map we might not even begin the journey. Or when we walk right up to it and see its size and hear its noise we might give up the task for hopeless. But what if the pull to make the journey continues to be strong? And what if this desire seems to come not just from our self-will but from some inner place where God’s Spirit dwells? Then we might be willing to go on walking trusting that in time we will arrive. But where will this arrival point be? It might be the place we imagined or somewhere entirely different and surprising. God knows.

I recently went for a walk, having planned my route on a map showing all the footpaths, I knew where I wanted to get to. But what stood in the way was a busy dual carriageway. The map showed a footpath running up to its edge and another starting on the other side immediately opposite. There had to be an underpass or a bridge… There wasn’t…

I understood how Moses and the Egyptians must have felt when faced by the waters of the Red Sea. There are no zebra crossings on motorways…

I might have turned back, but the lure of the destination was strong, and so I trudged along the road’s noisy edge for a long mile, searching for a crossing point and finally – when almost at the point of giving up – reached a turning that took me to the other side. I wasn’t on the path I first thought of but now new possibilities for the journey opened up for me. This, rather than the route I had imagined in the beginning, was now my path.

Jesus says, ‘I am the Way’. The Way moves on from where we are, and not from some other place. We don’t know where in detail it will lead us, but it will lead us somewhere. The obstacles we perceive are not barriers to this way; in Jesus they become the Way. All that has happened to us is part of the Way. All that might happen in the future – wanted or not – will also takes its place within the Way. Our part is to pluck up our courage and take hold of our desire and walk: a Way has to be travelled.

This Way might not after all, follow the path we envisaged and may not lead to the destination we imagined. But a Way that can lead someone through the dead ends of betrayal, ridicule and death on a cross, and yet lead to unbounded risen life, is always to be trusted.

CC.

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9 May: Letting go and letting God

open-hands-prayer

Whether we are seeking to grow in prayer, or become free of what we have come to recognise as life-diminishing ways of acting or thinking, or to know what it is God wants us to do, it is in letting go that we make room for God. It is the Spirit that roots and grounds us in God, draws us into wholeness and guides us along the way that leads to life. If we try too hard, believing that it is only through the sheer force of our will and effort that change can happen, we leave little room for God. Everything is gift.

However ‘letting go’ is in itself a work, for our natural inclination tends towards keeping life in our minute control, depending entirely on our own resources rather than being open to another’s help, and bringing about change by the strength of our will and endeavour. To go against this instinct for self-sufficiency and self-definition can feel daunting; yet we let go not into nothingness but to ‘let God’ be active in our lives. In doing so we find that we too are alive in a way we have never been before.

  • Put a stone in your hand to represent what you desire to let go to God.
  • Place a candle or cross nearby to symbolize the place of letting go.
  • Use the reflection below may help you to identify what you want to put in God’s hands:

We let go to God our regrets about the past – the choices we have made however we now feel about them, whatever has happened to us for good and for harm. God is in the place where we are, however we got there.

We let go to God our anxiety about the future. We cannot control what is in essence beyond our control – instead of torturing ourselves with fears that begin ‘what if…’ we let go to God who will always be alongside us in ‘what is’.

We let go to God what hurts. True we cannot switch off our painful feelings; they flow into our lives, but if we do not cling to them they will flow from us again, carried in the stream of God’s presence and care.

We let go to God our resentment. Even though the anger may not die down in our hearts we consent not to hold on to our need to get even; we give to God to heal what we cannot heal by ourselves

We let go to God our need to be good enough. God gives freely what we can never earn. We are valued, loved and believed in as we are.

We let go to God our desire for growth. It is God who continues to create us and who works to make us whole.

We let go to God the choices we face today. Though we do not know what to do, as we choose to listen, God will lead us along the unseen way.

We let go into God’s working: We consent to be drawn this day into the stream of God’s life: to become the activity of Love in that part of the world that is ours.

  • As you sense something you want to let go to let God, put down your stone by the candle or cross.
  • There may be feelings you need to share with God before you feel ready to let go: fears, hopes, doubts, desires or pains. You may sense you are not ready yet to let go and let God in this area of your life. If so, let go at whatever level you are able to today, with your ambivalent feelings and doubts.
  • You will probably find that on another day you will need to let go in this area all over again. Letting go is rarely a ‘done deal’; it is a process where little by little we allow God to become the source of our life.

 

CC.

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6 May: Confidence in God’s Mercy.

beach-rye-640x348

The beach at Rye Harbour.

The writer Radclyffe Hall was a parishioner at the Franciscan parish of St Anthony, Rye and donated its great crucifix. Let her short verses contemplating God’s Mercy be our introduction to tomorrow’s Good Shepherd Sunday.

Confidence

The faintness of my heart
When strife and evil rose,
The worse and lesser part
Which it for ever chose,
God knows.

The passions that have bound
My soul with chains of earth.
The sorrows that have found
Their home with me since birth.
The dearth

Of all these nobler things
That make existence fair,
The stain of sin that clings
Until we cease to caremercy.carving. (328x640)

For prayer,

All this must I atone:

And though eternal woes
My banished soul alone
Must bear without repose,
Yet I am not afraid
To know God knows. 

This is the prayer of a lost sheep who knows she is lost but wants to be found. The tension building towards the last couplet is resolved in the person of the child of Bethlehem, the crucified, risen Lord; the God who knows our humanity from the inside. He is the Good Shepherd who knows us and is ready to carry us home.

MMB

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April 23, 2017: Be Grateful to Thomas!

Last Easter – well last Low Sunday – we visited Plowden, a small country church which would have been crowded if seventy people had gathered there. It was comfortably full, and comfortably friendly.

The priest, Fr David, was a visitor as well. If his homily had been written down, I would have published it here, but he said that he prepares his homilies and then lets them flow, hoping that the Holy Spirit can get a word in edgeways.

Well, the Spirit made an impression. One thing I will share. I paraphrase, wishing I could have recorded Fr David’s every word:

Saint John wrote for us, knowing that a different sort of Faith would be needed after Jesus had gone. We should be grateful to him for showing the disciples not understanding Jesus, betraying him – except John himself who stood by the Cross to the end. And we should be grateful to Thomas for his doubts – people do not come back to life, do they? Saint John tells us what we need to hear, that the twelve, whom Jesus had trained up for three years, doubted, let him down.

But Jesus came back, smiling, with no recriminations, just ‘Peace be with you’, and ‘touch my wounds.’

+  +  +  +  +

And those are two excellent mottos for our task of spreading the Good News.

MMB.

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14 April,Good Friday: Pilate’s Politics.

608px-brooklyn_museum_-_the_message_of_pilates_wife-_pilate_-_james_tissot

John Masefield wrote a play in verse about Good Friday. In an exchange after Jesus was condemned, we hear Pilate and and his wife Procula, who famously warned him ‘Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.‘ (Matthew 27:19)

Pilate:

Another charge was brought some hours ago,

That he was claiming to be that great King

foretold by prophets, who shall free the Jews.

This he persisted in. I could not choose

But end a zealot claiming such a thing.

Procula:

It is a desecration of our power.

A rude poor man who pitted his pure sense

Against what holds the world its little hour,

Blind force and fraud, priests’ mummery and pretence.

Could you not see that this is what he did?

Pilate:

Most clearly, wife. But Roman laws forbid

That I should weigh, like God, the worth of souls.

I act for Rome, and Rome is better rid

Of those rare spirits whom no law controls.

He broke a statute, knowing from the first

Whither his act would lead, he was not blind.

‘Good Friday’ in John Masefield, ‘Collected Poems’, London, Heinemann, 1925, pp449-507.

Procula’s speech is as good an examination of conscience as any for today, but if you can find the text, the whole play is worth reading and pondering.

Tissot: The Message of Pilate’s Wife, Brooklyn Museum

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10 April: The Big Mile, or Patient Trust.

madonna-closeup-hales-pl

Jesus, arms outstretched, at the start of his earthly life. Statue at Hales Place.  The Sacred Heart emblem has been lost from his breast, but the Cross is on his shoulder.

 

One Sunday after Mass Friends of the Franciscan Study Centre walked  to Hales Place Jesuit Chapel in aid of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society’s Big Mile appeal. There we read the following prayer by Père Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once a student at the Jesuit College, since demolished.

 

 

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

Ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin

 

Holy Week must have seemed a long and anxious time for Jesus.

Let us bring before him all the impatience, instability, anxiety and incompleteness felt by ourselves and those we love. I ask you to remember especially all of us connected with the Franciscan Study Centre as its mission here in Canterbury comes to an end.

MMB.


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22 March: Wayside Pulpits

altrincham_market_cross_2-480x640Altrincham Market Cross

Early Franciscans, such as Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, our patron, often preached in the open air, maybe at a cross erected as a town’s Speakers’ Corner, like this one, reconstructed in Altrincham, Cheshire. The Reformation saw most of them demolished in England.

agnellusfullWhen we travelled to the North of England recently there were the usual old trailers, parked in fields beside the motorways and advertising  anything from the local builder to  sofas or insurance on-line. There was a cluster in West Yorkshire that reminded me of the  ‘Wayside Pulpits’ that non-conformist churches  display, with their elegant calligraphy proclaiming a Bible verse or seasonal message. ‘Prepare to meet thy God’ read one of these trailers, with a lot more text besides, too much to take in with a passing glance.

One of the firms that arrange these ads boasts that they offer 7-10 seconds of dwell time guaranteed. That’s 7-10 seconds of a driver not fully aware of the road – guaranteed.

The weather was worsening; just a few miles up the road we witnessed a collision.

I don’t suppose the church or individual who had these billboards parked there intended readers to be meeting their God so soon after reading their message, but this is irresponsible and dangerous preaching. It is also illegal. Time to stop it!

MMB.

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Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

3_three_kings_methodist

When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

dalit.madonna.methodist

Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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