Tag Archives: light

18 March. Before the Cross V: An Absent Presence.

'Still', a major work by Scottish artist Alison Watt, is installed in the Memorial Chapel

Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

A mysterious and endearing quality of art and music is that they can open a door within us to a stillness in which we can inwardly sense the knowing of God. For ultimately this knowing is not a theory in our heads, but the kind of knowing that ripples through our being in a way in which we most probably don’t understand and yet we can say of it ‘I just know’.

‘Still’ is by the Scottish painter Alison Watt OBE (b. 1965), and is hung behind the altar in the Memorial chapel of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. If ever you have a few moments free in the centre of Edinburgh, or arrive by train to the central Waverley Station it is conveniently just across the road from the back entrance to the station. The church is usually open for visitors, offering a respite from the vibrancy and noise of the city centre by the contrastingly silent and poignantly serene space which is this chapel – dedicated in memory of those fallen in World War 1. It is a dark space which holds both the sadness of the memory of those who gave their lives, and the light of hope through the risen Christ.

This unique work somehow expresses the sense of beauty and light and continuing movement of the spirit, through its enigmatic focus on folds of fabric. The work is a quadriptych (a work in four parts) 12 ft by 12 ft, and so naturally echoes the cross in its layout, a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice taken by Christ. The theme of the painting is hanging drapery. The implication is that the cloth is that of the shrouds of Jesus, though what hangs behind it is only alluded to. Certainly the subtle implication is of a body beneath, causing the shaping and the folds. Watt says of the work: ‘‘Although the body is not explicitly represented, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. The paintings are about an absent presence.’

An absent presence – something we can’t see or physically perceive and yet we know and sense is there. And so it was for those who experienced that first Easter morning – the confusion of a mysterious absent presence. It is that very quality which, without words or analysis, settles within me as I sit with this work of art.

When I first saw this painting I felt mesmerised by the beauty and the impact of the white simplicity of the hangings amidst the stark silence of the chapel. It stills me, and yet the stillness is not rigid but full of gentle movement and flow. The meaning is not obvious and yet in my unknowing it offers me opportunity to sit and just to absorb. It offers that doorway to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

I often like to pop in when I am back in my home town; By stepping aside from all that energises the centre of town into the entrancing beauty and stillness of being in that place, I experience a way into the serenity of prayer which settles and recharges my inner resources through this beautiful work of art.

Janet McDonald

Alison Watt is the youngest artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2000) and to serve as an Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London (2006-8). For Still, she won the ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry) award for a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space in 2005. See:

 

Janet McDonald is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

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14 February, Mass in the City of Light, February 1946

candle

A reminder that Christ is among us at the Eucharist, whether celebrated in splendour or in dirt and poverty – and in the case of Archbishop Spellman’s visit to Notre Dame de Paris, in dirty, poverty stricken splendour. Spellman was en route to Rome, to become a Cardinal,

The post-war visit to the French capital by and large was anything but gay. For Mass in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, each priest was still assigned one little piece of candle stuck in a bottle, which was carried from the sacristy by the server and carefully returned. Even when His Eminence gave Solemn Benediction at the main altar, there were only two candles burning. The streets were dark too, the streets of the City of Light, dark and dirty. The hotels were cold. The shops were shabby. Only the famous Flea Market, which seemed to be very much bigger than ever, was doing a thriving business.

So, Let your light shine! One candle in a neglected, dirty cathedral was a sign of hope, a sign of the Lord’s presence among his people. And even that one candle was an act of defiance to the darkness, the darkness will never overcome!

From ‘The Cardinal Spellman Story’ by Robert L Gannon, London, Robert Hale, 19963, p288. 

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 8: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27:1)

  • Psalm 27:1-4

  • John 8:12-20

Starting point

Over the past eight days the churches of Indonesia have helped us consider difficult situations facing the world. Many of these have raised questions of justice. The Church has been complicit in many instances of injustice and, through that complicity, we have damaged our unity and diminished the effectiveness of our witness to the world. Christians gather for common prayer, professing common faith and to listen for God’s voice. Although the many injustices wound us, we do not lose hope, but are called to action. The Lord is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives. We do not fear.

Reflection

Hope

Forgive us how we’ve devalued you:

‘We live in hope’ and yet don’t hope to live,

‘Hope so’, when we have none in our hearts.

Show us who you really are:

disturb the deathly ease of our despair

and give us the courage to embrace your pain:

impudent in the face of hate,

unrelenting under oppression,

daring to resist the entropy of division.

Goad us to take up that felon’s cross

whose agony

laid empty the grave.

Prayer

God our hope,

we praise you for your loving kindness.

Uphold us when we are about to give up,

show us your light when all around seems dark.

Transform our lives that we may bring hope to others.

Help us to live united in our diversity as a witness to your communion,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever. Amen.

Questions

  • How has Jesus empowered you to witness to what is right?

  • Where in the life of your church or group of churches do you most need the gift of hope?

  • What is your best hope for your community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Generate hope by sharing your actions and prayers for justice on the CTBI prayer wall using the #wpcuwall hashtag on Twitter and visit http://www.weekofprayer.org to see the actions others have taken.

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

dawn

Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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4 January: God’s Grandeur

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Another light on that New Year’s resolution we proposed yesterday.
‘All is seared with trade’: Hopkins did not have to stray far from any Victorian Jesuit house to find trade and industry searing, smearing, smudging the soil. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to kindle in us a love of Creation that helps us to see what to do – and to do it – to care for all he has made. Laudato Si!
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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26 December: Saint Stephen the Deacon

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I am always jolted by the contrast between the story of a humble birth on 25th, and of a violent death by mob today. To explore this, we offer another reflection from Pope Benedict XVI. WT,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Every year on the day after the Birth of the Lord the liturgy has us celebrate the Feast of St Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as a man full of grace and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:8-10; 7:55). Jesus’ promise, recorded in today’s Gospel text, was fulfilled in him: believers called to bear witness in difficult and dangerous circumstances will not be abandoned or defenceless; the Spirit of God will speak through them (cf. Mt 10:20).

Stephen the Deacon, in fact, worked, spoke and died motivated by the Holy Spirit, witnessing to the love of Christ even to the supreme sacrifice. The Protomartyr is described in his suffering as a perfect imitation of Christ, whose Passion is repeated even in the details. The whole of St Stephen’s life is shaped by God, conformed to Christ, whose Passion is replicated in him; in the final moment of death, on his knees he takes up the prayer of Jesus on the Cross, commending himself to the Lord (cf. Acts 7:59) and forgiving his enemies; “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (v. 60). Filled with the Holy Spirit, when his eyes were about to be dimmed for ever, he fixed his gaze on “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55), the Lord of all and who draws all beings to himself.

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelisation. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

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December 21: come and shed your light upon those dwelling in darkness.

sunrise.sjc

In a traditionally ordered church the people symbolically face to the East, to the rising sun, symbol of Jesus the risen Lord. Today Sister Johanna leads our Advent reflection on Jesus the rising sun.

Follow the link.  Dec 21 – O Oriens

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December 13: Saint Lucy.

friday-16th

Why did Saint Lucy from Roman Sicily, prove to be so popular in Scandinavia, which was never part of the Empire, and became Lutheran at the Reformation? She must have touched the popular imagination! The reason must partly be her name – Lux means light in Latin – and partly the time of her feast day, in the dark, dark days of winter.

It’s a feast for the girls! In the North Countries they dress in white, carry candles and bring coffee and biscuits to their parents in bed.

We were once served small bowls of cereal by our elder daughters, who were under 5, and who got up very early (very early!) to bring us breakfast in bed. A joy for their parents despite the lost sleep.

Saint Lucy was one of those teenage martyrs who stood up for the truth, stood up for her self, and stood up for God. We remember her with just a few of the many other women martyrs of Roman times when we say the first Eucharistic Prayer: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia. Let them stand for all the young women who lived and died for the love of God, whose names we will never know. Let us commend all our teenage girls to their prayers.

And let us pray that the Peace the Angels proclaimed at Christmas may reign in all hearts, that all persecutions may cease.

MMB.

 

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29 November: Unexpected Autumn gifts.

apricot.leaves.broom

The leaves are not all down, despite the winds’ best efforts, so I can still share an autumnal story. LAudato si!

It was a little damp for sweeping leaves, but the apricot was shedding its gold over the public footpath and we didn’t want passers-by slithering at the corner, so out came the broom.

Perhaps it was the dampness that brought it out: a distinct scent of apricot rising from the leaves! I never noticed that before. Let’s hope it’s a promise of harvests to come.

aprcot.leaves.night.nov

A few days later, as I went to lock up for the night, I noticed the remaining leaves glowing and dancing in the lamplight. (I wish I could say moonlight, but she was obscured by low cloud.)

A silent disco; people pay good money for such entertainment!

I am always grateful when my sense of smell surprises me in this way. I lived largely without it for years. Laudato Si! for the apricot tree, for the leaves – and yes, for the lamplight – on this occasion. It is not necessary and pollutes the night sky, but just this once, Laudato Si! And Laudato si! for the surgery that, as an unexpected side effect, allowed me to smell again.

WT

(A version of this post has appeared on the Will Turnstone blog)

 

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September 24: He knows what He is about. (Feast of John Henry Newman)

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There have been times of great perplexity, when I could have done with the following young newmanprayer from Cardinal Newman. Something of an antidote to ambition! Retirement is as much a time of discernment as when leaving school or college, and it may well be that Newman’s Kindly Light will lead into unexpected corners!

God created me to do Him some definite service
He has committed some work to me, 
which He has not committed to another. 
I have a mission. 
I am a link in a chain, 
a bond of connection between persons.

Therefore I will trust Him. 
Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. 
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; 
if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him; 
if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him; 
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. 
He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.
Amen.

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