Tag Archives: Wales

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.

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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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Dark is a creative time

It’s St David’s Eve. The Welsh side of this blog insists that the Bible black dark is not to be feared as Lord is creating all through the night. Laudato Si’!

Fr James Kurzynski’s mother confirms this for us in this story of his recent visit home. Enjoy the story of turn right at the cow

WT

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26 February: The Most Natural Thing in the World.

heart

Continuing with Father Andrew SDC.

It is to me a comfort to think that the most natural thing in the whole world is also the most supernatural, and that is love.

The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, p159.

And turning now to the Welsh poet, W.H. Davies, to amplify that thought.

Love is a staff, and Love’s a rod,
A wise man and a fool;
I thought that I was wise, until
Love sent me back to school.

The Song of Love IV, 1926.

mercy.school (640x465)

Let’s pray for the humility to go back to school and learn from those we meet. God loves us, ‘supernaturally’ as we used to say, through their natural love for us, whether as spouse, parent, child, friend, or the one who smiles at us in the ticket office.

MMB.

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A week with Rabindranath Tagore: V

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That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.

Stray Birds XXII

Or in the words of the Welsh Poet W.H. Davies:

Good Morning Life and all things glad and beautiful.

I fully realise that for you, reader, maybe this is not the way you feel today. Certainly not ‘all things glad and beautiful.’ WHD knew suffering as a tramp, an amputee and a homeless hostel dweller before he was helped to become a full time writer. ‘What is this life if full of care …’ was written from experience.

‘… we have no time to stand and stare?’ Davies continues. It is no bad discipline to make time to stand and stare at any moment, or sit and reflect at day’s end. There is never a day without something to be grateful for: a smile, a star, sunshine on waves, an unseasonably early flower, dust motes dancing in a beam of light. And more small mercies to come tomorrow.

May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.

 

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14 January: Robin and Angel keeping watch.

robinangel-2

Here is Robin, watching the back door from our old Welsh angel. This stone came from St Tydfil’s churchyard in Wales. I was working on the clearing of this ground some years ago and rescued this slab of forest stone from the bulldozer and the skip.

The angel has guarded our comings and our goings since we moved to this house. If we don’t make a daily conscious prayer of thanks for God’s protection on our home, we once and for all made a concrete prayer when we put the stone on the wall.

And robin is welcome to our protection too, in the shape of a few crumbs but also a dense ivy hedge that offers protection for nesting and for roosting – and a few insects and slugs for food.

Visit, we beseech thee, O Lord, this place, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy; let thy holy angels dwell herein to preserve us in peace; and may thy blessing be upon us evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

MMB

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November 8: Saint Winifride and the Crutches.

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Plowden Church, Shropshire: Saint Winifride with her Holy Well and pilgrims’ crutches.
  • ‘… Why then, do you want a photograph of our Saint Winifride?’
  • ‘Because she has her crutches. I wanted to show them as part of a blog about sacrifice.’
  • ‘I’m still not following you.’

I was at an unfamiliar church in the Border country, Saint Walburga’s in Plowden, discussing the theology of sacrifice and of art with a new acquaintance. Such encounters help to clarify the mind:

  • ‘I was also thinking of Saint Omer, where the tomb of Saint Erkembolde[1] is covered with children’s shoes. He was a missionary who tramped around Northern France and so became patron for people with foot problems. They leave a token of their child as a sign of their prayer. And so with the crutches and Winifride. I wanted to get away from the image of Abraham raising the knife to Isaac, and look at sacrifice in the everyday.’
  • ‘Now you are making sense. I like the idea of the everyday sacrifices.’

The crutches at Saint Winifride’s well represent real, if not everyday events: not everyone is cured at Holywell; nor was everyone cured at Bethesda (John 5). But the crutches represent realities: each of us will need crutches, physical or mental, from time to time; each will need help to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 116). For the one who offered a crutch at Holywell it maybe represented a concrete prayer of thanksgiving; for us today it is a sign of everyday needs, physical and spiritual, that we can admit to and offer to the Lord.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Ps 116: 8-9.

Winifride, of course, was one of those remarkable women leaders of the Church in these Islands in the allegedly ‘Dark Ages’, like Walburga herself, and Eanswythe of Folkestone.[1]

[1] See Blog posts for 22 April 2016, 4 July 2016, 7 July 2016.

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October 20: Bitter Fruit, Bitter Seed

blackthorn

Blackthorn opens at the end of Winter, but never one flower alone, always a constellation of Hope. 

… waiting, as at the end

of a hard winter

for one flower to open

on the mind’s tree of thorns.[1]

I could not shake off yesterday’s image of a fleshly body, hanging on that tree. Waiting for a flower to open in my mind, I recalled this tree of thorns, the lynchings of black men in America: Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Abel Meeropol

Strange Fruit

While the song was written in response to lynchings in America, we are more than aware that the sudden smell of burning flesh could appear on any breeze, anywhere in the world.

Bitter crops come from bitter seeds. Let us pray for the insight to see how to relieve whatever bitterness we encounter in our neighbours, and the courage to reach out to do so.

MMB.

 

 

[1] Waiting SP p137

 

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October 17: Tarnished Offerings

samaritanwoman

Mosaic, Baptistery, Basilica of St Maurice, Valais, Switzerland 

R.S. Thomas had a holy well in his parish, sacred to Mary:

‘… Ignoring my image I peer down

to the quiet roots of it, where

the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

 

The Samaritan woman asked Jesus: ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.’ (John 4:13–15) Like her, those visiting Mary’s Well may have mixed or inarticulate motives: thanks for the water, but ‘asking for more’? Possibly healing, as at Saint Winifride’s Holywell or fertility?  At Saint Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire, we heard a party of pagans descending to hold a service in the water; one removing some of her clothing as we walked by. It did not seem opportune to ask whom they were worshipping.

In Bath Romans cast money into the water as an offering to Minerva. This ceased after the pious Emperor Theodosius I forbade offerings to pagan gods. But today’s tarnished offerings? Thomas says the ‘pure spirit that has lived there always’ accepts them.

Jesus led the conversation on from water, telling the woman: ‘God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:24)  R.S. Thomas invites us to plunge beyond introspection to offer thanks to a loving Creator rather than trying to force the hand of a coin-in-the-slot robot deity.

MMB.

 

 

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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October 16: He would have smiled

judas

I remember an Anglican priest shaken by a parishioner’s claim never to have suffered, wondering what life this man had lived. R.S. Thomas was an Anglican priest himself of course, and met such men from time to time, perhaps with a wry shake of the head.

The title of this poem, ‘The Fisherman’, evokes images of Peter the Apostle, embarrassing in his stuttering faith. Instead we meet a man who takes a fish or glass of water ‘as though they owed it to him’. How to evangelise such a one?

I could have told of the living water

That springs pure.

He would have smiled then,

Dancing his speckled fly in the shallows,

Not understanding.

Perhaps this man cannot see the depths of other people and cares only for what he can get from them, dancing the lure of his charm, not realising that he does not understand, not seeing how he hurts them. He would always have smiled. That lesson he’d learnt well.

Judas must have had charm, but he could not understand the loving gift of Mary, anointing the feet of Jesus with precious ointment and wiping them with her hair – even though Jesus had raised her dead brother to life! (John 12) After the death of Jesus, Judas saw clearly his petty betrayals – like stealing from the common purse – as well as the one they led up to. He could not cope with this view of himself.

There is a tradition that when he ‘descended into Hell’, Jesus took the opportunity to save Judas, as expressed by this carving at Strasbourg cathedral, where the Lamb of God is untying him from the tree of suicide.

How to evangelise such a one?

MMB

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October 16: A week with R.S. Thomas

It has been refreshing to read the poetry of Sister Johanna (our SJC), following the offerings of her colleague at Minster Sister Mary Stephen (SMS). They have sent me back to the sources. Tempting as Dylan might be, I turned instead to his namesake, R.S. Thomas, for this week’s reflections.

R.S. was a Welsh Anglican priest who wrote in English, often challenging, often reflecting light into dark corners. I hope you will turn to his work after reading these extracts and my reflections on them.

MMB.

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