Tag Archives: War

Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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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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25 February: “If We Live in the Sacred Heart”…

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More from Father Andrew, SDC; written in war time.

If we just live in this world we do have tribulation, but if we live in the Sacred Heart we are able to be of good cheer though we are in the midst of that which is cheerless, for He Who told us to be of good cheer is Himself in the midst of us.

I shall indeed keep you in my heart and my prayer, my dear Child.

God Bless and keep you.

The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, p 120. Edited Kathleen E Burne, Mowbrays, 1948.

And God bless and keep you all, all our readers. Thank you for being with us.

MMB.

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15 February: Officers and Civilians

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During the same Freshers’ Week Fair, and only a few paces away from the Paintball Monster, a slightly (but not very) different kind of recruitment was going on. Promising safe, lucrative careers to those newcomers from secondary schools, a British Army Officers’ Training Corps Tenet had a team ready to win over students to lives of military domination. Officers are paid to be good at domination. Students who have brains sharpened by A level mental discipline are just sufficiently self-assured about their talent for drilling others and keeping the world in line. Some might feel relieved to have difficult decisions about a fruitful direction to pursue in life to be taken for them by the military.

Psychotherapist Viktor Frankl observes that “boredom exists so that we will do justice to the meaning of our life.” From a utilitarian point of view, grief and repentance “appear to be meaningless” but when told to take a sleeping pill, “the grief-stricken person commonly retorts that his sleeping better will not awaken the lost one whom he mourns.” Through love “the gates to the whole universe of values are thrown open.” Dan Berrigan says that “one of the largest tasks of all… [is] helping other people to live by other  means than their fear, whether it  is fear of one another, fear of the enemy, fear  of the authorities, fear of prison, fear of disgrace, or fear of separation from their families.” Such inflation of reality is what “government [is] able to play on” till people can’t recognise fear of what might happen as different from what is actually happening.

 

Chris D.

January 2017.

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14 February: Mockery

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Just a few weeks after the children’s festival, a new academic year began at the University. During Freshers’ Week the newly-arrived keen students who have just survived Sixth Form pressures and A level exams, are encouraged to develop lively leisure activities alongside their chosen Degree courses. A Fresher’s Fair is a chance for all sorts of university clubs to win over a good number of students to this or that hobby. Here is one example, a Paintball shooting club. As seen here, human beings are presented as dividing into aggressive friends and unwelcome enemies. The idea of slaughtering an enemy is part of this so-called “game”. A mock human skull can be lifted up at the end to foster pride in the possibility of sneering (symbolically) at a corpse.

During the Vietnam War in the late Sixties and Early Seventies, some religious writers, both Buddhist and Christian, collaborated in calling for pacifist symbolism to be given a genuine hearing. The need for an agreed symbolism of non-violent resistance was what brought together the Jesuit Daniel Berrigan and the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh wrote and spoke about resistance meaning “more than resistance against war. It is a resistance against all kinds of things that are like war. Because living in modern society one feels he cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself… So perhaps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system.”  It means refusing to join in all sorts of mockery, even in play, that treats others as disposable rubbish.  [See their co-authored book: The Raft is Not the Shore.]

 

Chris D.

Jan. 2017.

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A Letter of Hope from Syria

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Whatever happens in Syria, the L’Arche Community is still living its vocation. Here is a letter (in English) reviewing the last year at Christmastime.

We have celebrated Christmas in joy, as faced with our daily situation, celebrations are a call to us not to be drawn into deadly sorrow. Celebration is the best remedy against the absurd and despair.

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Please pray for all Christians and Muslims living the call not to be drawn into deadly sorrow.

MMB

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January 7: Jesus was a Refugee.

hughes-cwl-picture2-el-tahagPhoto from Catholic Women’s League

This hut stood at the edge of a World War II army camp in Egypt called El Tahag. There were training grounds there for Allied troops as well as Prisoner of War camps housing Italian and German soldiers. The Catholic Women’s League ran a club for the Allied troops, with a small chapel which is marked by a cross above the right-hand window facing us. The women who served there were volunteers, mostly from Britain; they worked in other places in Egypt, including Saint Joseph’s Church in Cairo.

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

The sailors, soldiers and airmen they served may not have been refugees but they were far from home and were glad of the refuge offered by the women from home; a comfortable armchair and the secret weapon  of a cup of tea, with female company, even if they, too, were in uniform.

It’s believed that the Holy Family stayed somewhere near Cairo when they were refugees.

Unlike many refugees in Britain today, Joseph was able to work to support his wife and son, once others had helped him set up a new business. Joseph and Mary must have been a good team, working together to ensure Jesus was not traumatised by the experience.

I recommend this  article:

Jesus was a refugee

Dr Joan Taylor links Jesus’ experience as a refugee with the mission he set his followers to carry nothing, to accept what they were given, to shake the dust of enmity from their feet.

God Bless your family this year!

MMB

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4 January: the Christmas Truce

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More than once I had heard the story of a Christmas Truce along the Western Front in 1914, and often as not someone would dismiss the idea. I was glad to find a book, written with the co-operation of the Imperial War Museum that makes clear that the Christmas Truce did occur*

The writers do not see the Truce as an irrelevance, rather a

‘precursor, a portent indeed, of the spirit of reconciliation now powerfully abroad as one century ends and a new age begins. From South Africa to Ireland, and perhaps most noticeably of all in the benevolent arm-in-arm relationship between France and Germany (whose deep-rooted antipathy … made the First World War virtually inevitable.’                          p vii.

They tell many stories, using diaries and other records of the time. This was reported in the Daily Telegraph as the account of a wounded French soldier:

‘he said that on the night of December 24th, the French and the Germans came out of their respective trenches and met halfway between them. They not only talked, exchanged cigarettes &c.,  but also danced together in rings.’        p 79.

There are many other accounts of how ‘we achieved what the pope (Benedict XV) could not do and in the middle of the war we had a merry Christmas.’ p 94.

Which was irrelevant: the Christmas Truce or the Great War?

Let us pray for Peace in this New Year.

*Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, Pan, 2001. There are plenty of copies of this and other editions at Abe Books for less than £3.

Here is a link to the European Christmas Truce Tournament . Teenage boys from football clubs across Europe meet to play football, socialise, and visit the trenches, cemeteries and monuments of the Great War.

Photo Q 50719 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

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28 December, Holy Innocents.

 

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I suggested yesterday that there is something ridiculous – humanly speaking – about the whole Christmas story. But we love stories! Books, TV, films, The Archers on the radio, all have their followers – and their detractors. We learn who we are through stories.

When training as a teacher I reviewed a children’s  picture book about the Rhine,  a few words and some rather good photographs, including the Lorelei Rock. After the story of the sirens luring boats to destruction was told the young reader was asked, Do you think this story is true?

Wrong question!

Abel is now eighteen months, a little young to listen to stories, but not too young to tell himself some. Among his words are digger, car, and brrrrm. Enough to start conversations in what some people call the real world, as he points to his Dad’s or his grandmother’s car. Enough to recognise a toy digger as a digger, and push it along, brrrrm. Enough to recognise a cartoon of a car on a tiny sticker given to me by one of his Auntie’s pupils. Is it a true car?

The idea of a car does not depend on size for Abel. Yes, some will dismiss the toy and sticker as unreal. But as Fr Kurzynski suggested yesterday, we are in danger of just not getting it. Small and big may well look different from a divine point of view. Or even from a deeply human one – see our post “A World of my own?” last May 14.

In this life, Jesus started off very small … Be grateful for small mercies.

And let’s pray today for mercy on innocent children suffering in war zones in Congo, Syria and elsewhere.

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16 December: What can I do?

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Isaiah the prophet challenges us today in the first reading to ‘have a care for justice and keep away from evil’.

Listening to what is happening in world today, it seems there is no justice anywhere and everywhere is full of different kinds of evil. There are so many wars, hunger, illnesses, killings, displacement etc being faced by many people.  Every created thing seeks for justice and fairness. I often wonder where God is in all this. When I reflect on various areas in which injustices are being perpetuated in our world, I weep and feel powerless.

When I consider further, I tell myself I can make a difference in whatever little way is possible for me.  I can speak out for those who are unjustly mistreated. I can write to MPs supporting proposals that promote fair treatment for all.  I can stand up for the truth no matter what it will cost me.  I can also pray for a change of heart for those who no longer seek for God’s justice but rather for punishment without mercy. If I see injustice around me, I can try to be, by following Jesus’ example, a light that shines for all to see.

I pray that in my everyday activities, I will do my best to detach myself from anything that does not promote goodness. I ask God to help me make sure that people and other creatures are treated with fairness, and never trample on them because I have the power and resources to do so.

Come Lord Jesus, Sun of Justice!

FMSL

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5 December: Mercy for those with neither hope nor peace.

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The Angel of Mercy joins the other angels to explain why mercy is needed:

We see the world of men seizing and slaying,

            Lusting for wealth, destroying and betraying,

With neither hope nor peace,

Save greed, between their darkness and decaying.

They come out of a darkness; they awaken

To the Blood’s storms, they tremble, they are shaken,

With neither hope nor peace,

They war in bloody blindness until taken. (pp 4-5)

Seizing and slaying – what changes? Greed is encouraged, consumption to keep the economy growing, so that we can earn more money and lust for more wealth. And whether it is people or the environment, we go on slaying or others do so in our name.

We need God’s mercy to live, and our sisters and brothers need us to live God’s mercy in hope and peace, whatever bloody blindness infects our society.

WT

Star from the walls of Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury. MMB.

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