Tag Archives: image

November 2: Passion Flowers.

 

 

 

Our Victorian forebears were rather taken with the language of flowers and could semaphore their feelings through a careful choice of blooms in a posy. Hence the pansy, or pensée in French, signalled, ‘you are in my thoughts.’

Mrs T and I visited Chartham village with Abel. After he had played on the roundabouts at the village green, we wandered into the churchyard for lunch under the trees.

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Our Victorian forebears, if they could afford it, erected finely carved stones over their loved-one’s graves. Without much effort at all we found these three carved with passionflowers which represent the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns.

All this suffering somehow mirrored in a beautiful flower. And by carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the three families were proclaiming belief that the dead would rise again with Christ. A good thought and prayer for November and All Souls.

When you see a passionflower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passionflower on a gravestone, send us a picture to put in the blog!

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 WT

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November 1: All Saints

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Scaffolding at the gate, stage left in this picture, barriers, holes and diggers across the foreground, although only the digger operator is visible, this picture says beware of the workers!

This shows part of the precincts, taken from the main Galilee door into Canterbury Cathedral a short while ago. There has also been scaffolding around the building behind us while the roof was being rebuilt. All a terrible nuisance and not especially photogenic. But necessary.

There are saints like that who don’t necessarily get noticed until they get in the way, who would not want to be noticed, and who will never be considered for canonisation. Fair play to Canterbury Cathedral though: the hoardings off camera to the left and right carry photos and stories of some of these back-room girls and boys that the visitor rarely sees. All part of maintaining the building, but also of enabling the cathedral community to proclaim the Good News effectively.

Let us thank God for all saints those who have touched our lives without our noticing, and let’s pray that we may be more aware of them in future.

For all the saints who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Bishop William W How

 

 

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

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The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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13 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIV: In the Image of God

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We are imago Dei not in some external, visible way but in the depth of our experience when we look in on ourselves and share ourselves with others. To think of Jesus as the hollow shell of a man with a divine inside we would miss the real channel of divine revelation – the human inside.

Jesus experienced a gradual consciousness of himself, his ordinary human feelings about friendship and loneliness, loyalty and betrayal, life and death and sharing a common destiny for all. Jesus learned to speak, think and pray and to figure out the will of the Father from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the faith of those around him and from what was happening in the larger world. He exercised his prophetic mission in different ways and by trial and error, followed through with those that best served his purpose.

He knew there was a price to pay for this: he would be arrested and got rid of. He freely chose to stand his ground and continue his mission; through prayer and reflection he came to see his coming death as an innocent sacrifice for the lives of others.

How could his consciousness be that of God and man at the same time? God does not think conceptually, nor does God know the way we know, when we speak of God as a person we are using analogy. God is mystery, we have no idea of knowing how God knows. When we speak of Jesus as human we know what we mean, when we speak of Jesus as divine we do not know what we mean. We know we do not mean a simple equation like Mrs Jones is the former Susan Smith because God is more beyond personhood than simply person.

AMcC

Photo from Monica Tobon

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12 August, What is Theology Saying? XXIII: Jesus was alive and present to the disciples

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We can see in the Nicene Creed two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate. It is only in recent times we have asked if religious statements were literally true – verifiable by observation. Our technology minded age is in danger of thinking that such verification is the only criterion of truth. As a result, new questions are being asked. One item in the Nicene Creed’s account of Jesus causes a special problem. It is not self-evident that and on the third day he rose again belongs to the first or second account. Saint Paul says if Christ is not risen then our hopes are in vain. We do not know whether Paul was thinking of the resurrection in the first or second recital.

We know that everywhere in Scripture, where we have testimonies of the risen Christ, mystery language is used – dazzling light, white garments, sudden appearances, ecstatic joy. No unbelievers had seen Jesus, and the guards told a different story. In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the resurrection belongs to the first or second recital, because the important issue is that it does hold the two recitals together. The apostles spoke from a faith experience, Jesus alive and present to them: something that changed everything for them. The evidence they gave was their own lives; alive in hope, joy and freedom – no longer cringing in that locked upper room – they were now living as a community of love and trust. Because they never asked was the Resurrection true as an observable fact, it never occurred to them to answer the question, and because they never asked or answered, we shall never know.

How could Jesus be truly human? Theology is never the study of God, but the study of man and his experience of God, because this is the only experience open to us. Focussing on Jesus is on a man in whose existence we have glimpsed the invisible God whose only image is man. In the experience of the man Jesus, especially in the way he met his death and his triumph over death, we have met the image of God who gives life and gives himself in a shocking and unique way, once and for all.

AMcC

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16 June. What do the Saints Know? VII: Connaturality

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So we have come to the idea of connaturality with divine things in this notion of participated likeness to God’s knowledge. For me, how wonderful and how freeing the knock-on effect of all this is. Faith’s kind of knowing is the direct opposite of the hurt and cramp of mistrust and suspicion, which the wide arena of human affairs almost obliges us to experience in order to survive in a sinful world. Faith in God is not like that. It is like a cooling breeze sweeping in after the misery of the sweltering, humid heat of August.

When I ponder the truths of the faith, I do not have to fear that I might be standing on quick-sand, or on the fault-line of an earthquake, or that I might be placing my deepest trust in someone who is liable to walk out on me. It is nothing like that at all. With faith in what God has revealed, I do not have to be suspicious, or try to ‘suss out’ the true and the false. I only have to absorb the True, and allow this to Truth to create in me a connaturality with God’s knowledge – a ‘participated likeness’ which begins now and continues – forever.

The theological virtue of faith exists in concert with the virtues of hope and charity. These will be explored in future posts.

SJC

 

Thank you again, Sister Johanna. We look forward to the next of your reflections in Agnellus’Mirror.

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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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2 March: We take time and love to develop…

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Once upon a time if you used a camera you’d have to wait a good while to view the final image. The method was different from the one we’re used to in a digital age. The click of the camera button exposed the photographic film to light, forming a latent image, at this stage invisible to the eye. Further exposure to light at this stage would ruin the image, so the film had to be developed in a dark room. The process involved soaking the film in a tank of developing fluid. Slowly the hidden image would be revealed, and a ‘negative’ created. Once washed, fixed and dried the image on the film was projected onto photographic paper and the image, once seen through the eye of the camera lens, was made visible in the print.

Not being someone who could do all this, I remember the long wait between taking the photos and retrieving the finished product from the chemist. That was a long time past. It’s so much more convenient and instant now. But I wonder whether the old ways are truer to our experience of development than the instant ‘click and view’.

In looking with love God creates us, each one full of the beauty and life-giving capacity that belongs to those made in the image and the likeness of the Creator. The image is there but latent, unseen by any eye but God’s. It’s going to take time, darkness, and soaking for this image to develop.

Through the years of our life God labours patiently to develop the image. We take time. We develop in the dark room of trust in God. The darkness envelops and protects us, though it might not seem that way. When we cannot see our way and when we have no means within ourselves to manage our experience, trust moves us into God, and God moves us into who we are

And there we need to soak. Prayer is not only the saying of words, or the making of requests; it is also resting our life, our times and our experience in God. Not once for all, but hour by hour, and day by day.

Slowly the image, always there but latent, begins to form. To our own eyes the image may appear to be a negative. We become more, not less aware of our frailties and our capacity for destructiveness. But now light is needed, not of our own understanding but of the love of God: the eye that first looked through the camera lens and that joys in what it beholds.

We know that more development is needed.

And it will take time, and much love.

CC.

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8 October: CONSCIENCE I: Why bother to look closely at the conscience?

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 If you are reading this Daily Reflections blog, chances are you are not doing so merely because at this moment you have nothing better to do.  You are reading this because you want to have God in your life, you wish to deepen your interior life, to become a better person, become someone who is more prayerful and loving.  In that case, it may be of help to you to reflect for a few days with me on the notion of conscience.

Why do this?  Why bother to look closely at the conscience?  Certainly everyone knows what it is, you might say.  It’s that little voice inside that makes you feel guilty when you’ve done something wrong.  True enough.  But there is much more to our conscience than that.  Our conscience is not just an irritating little guilt generator.  It is an extremely important piece of moral equipment that enables us to love what is good and reject what is evil.  It is really a very noble part of ourselves.  Here is what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey.  Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment… For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God… His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary.  There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths [no. 1776].

This beautiful passage brings out the nobility of our conscience.  It is the “place” within us where we find that we have a spontaneous affinity with what is good, with what is of God.  We are, after all, made in God’s image.  In a manner similar to the way genetics cause traces of the parents’ appearance to be seen in the face of their child, we can also find traces of our Heavenly Father’s heart in our own hearts, through the “genetics” of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  Conscience is about that reality.  Conscience contains a “law” that we have not laid upon ourself; it is the law of love.  This law does not force us.  We remain free.  But it calls to us, invites us to grow more like our Heavenly Father.  Our conscience points to the love God has for us, and helps us respond in kind.  Our conscience sanctions our good works and provides the happiness we experience when we do what is good and avoid what is evil.

 

SJC

 

 

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