On the Edge
The Isle of Sheppey lies in the Thames estuary (outside the flood barrier) and is low-lying. It is a place of vulnerability, threatened by high tides and shifting coast. The image is of some wooden 'shack' properties (actually holiday lets) situated right on the edge.
The edge is representative of several aspects of this situation - the beach/land divide marked out by a fence - the beach/sea relationship punctuated by the wooden groynes that seek to maintain some stability - the horizon marking out the sea/sky boundary along with the hint of what it is that lies beyond - the dawn light which marks the transition between night/day offering a future hope, while the 'red sky in the morning' gives a warning of possible threat to come.
For Sheppey residents the sharpest edge that they live on is likely to do with climate change with rising sea levels, but the new day always offers hope. The red sky may offer a warning, but this can be a spur to action.
For those of Christian faith the brightening horizon and all that is hopeful beyond it are a reminder of what it is that God promises. The sky may be seen as a call to a change of heart, so that God's promises, seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, might be real for us within the present time. The sharpest edge here is that between this world and life and the next, but this is not an edge to fear because God is on both sides!
The musical creative process centres on the performers, but begins with the composer and continues within the audience. This image based on Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason with Rachmaninov.
Each creative process is only a prelude to what happens next in many different settings and ways.
In the case of this musical performance, I was inspired to undertake a painting of the passion of the Kanneh-Masons, Who knows what other outcomes came about within the audience?!
URC Prayer Handbook
I was invited to contribute, under the theme of 'Conversations', to this annual publication with material for Holy Week and Easter Day. These relate to the Biblical story which is referenced, so these can be read alongside. In addition there are two further contributions that have been my own choice - around the themes of dementia and creativity.
All the material can be found here
Hear the Still Small Voice
I feel safe and secure in my cave, my home, while the world rages and only enters via the screen in the corner of the room. I have happily excluded myself from engaging, other than from a distance, glad that Covid restrictions enable me to feel I am doing the right thing.
However, I do feel a discomfort, even an anger, which I trust is righteous, because what I witness is far from the good creation that was God's in the beginning. There is great need for salvation, yet people listen only to themselves and what seems good to them.
Outside, firestorms, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes - political argument, armed conflict, virus - all bring our world towards a breaking point and I know that change needs to come.
There is much in crises, natural and human, that seems to speak of judgment, yet God's voice is not heard in them alone.
Attention is drawn to our human failings, but it is the still small voice within that we must listen to. It is the Spirit within which moves us to the creative that lies beyond judgment. God will not add to our sense of despair and impotence at the chaos of the world, but rather encourage us with his gifts.
God's still small voice called Elijah from his cave of retreat and security to anoint kings and prophet (1 Kings 19). When we feel at the end of the road, not able to do anything significant to change the situation, are we, perhaps, called to the same - to anoint those who are in positions to act and bring change - those with particular gifts, those who seek to govern or lead, those who seek to shape our human life and those who will speak for You in our world.
What then does it mean for us to anoint others? It begins with the recognition of and an appreciation for God's gifts in them. Then to bless, encourage and share in, as far as we are able, this move towards the new creation.
Practically it may mean things such as:
Engagement in the political process, enabling our voice to be heard between elections.
Support and affirmation for causes bringing change that we understand to be from God - climate action, building peace, enabling the less able .....
To support those who seek our deeper understanding of God's purposes, giving attention to the prophetic voices speaking into particular situations.
Part of the Story
There are many stories of which we are each part. Our family, our nation, groups, causes etc. are just some. We are all part of the story of creation, God's story, key elements of which Christians understand are told in the Bible. The story stretches from creation in Genesis to new creation in the book of Revelation, with us somewhere between the two, playing our part, filling in the detail, shaping the plot.
I recall learning about the various books of the Bible, constructing a picture of a library covering history, song, prophecy, Gospels, letters and much more. It is absorbing to reflect on one's own story, the larger stories of which one is a part and that greater story which is God's.
The fruitful reflection for each of us is around what part we play in God's creation, redemption and new creation.
A sermon I heard challenged me with the question put by Jesus to a blind man he was healing - "Do you see anything?" Reflecting on the experience of the man as he regained his sight and saw Jesus, my mind conjured up the words of Simeon, the man who greeted Mary and Joseph as they went to present the new-born Jesus in the temple and to make their sacrifice.
The painting is a visual reflection on the Gospel passage. You may care to use both in a time of reflection.
Luke 2. 22-35
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.’
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There are echoes in the past for this passage. Psalm 119.123
My eyes fail, looking for your salvation,
looking for your righteous promise.
From the viewing point on the top of the Montparnasse Tower in Paris the evening light makes the familiar edifice of the Sacré Coeur stand out over the city that surrounds it. The distant suburbs disappear in the haze, but the houses of Montmartre are varied shades, with some shining as light as the church.
The image for me is of the Church of Christ witnessing to the city, but not only through its structural institution. It is also, and more importantly, those who witness in their homes and everyday lives.
The sunlight does eventually fade, but it moves on elsewhere and the rotations of day and night symbolise for us the eternity within which God dwells.
By contrast the flood-lit Sacré Coeur (image below), attractive in the later evening, will be plunged into darkness. The human-created light is of a different quality all-together and has nothing of the eternal about it.
So it is, we are called to reflect the light of Christ in the world in which we live rather than offer ourselves alone. The Church of Christ, in its grand architecture or its humble homes, can only reflect and witness.
I find another contrast interesting too. Montmartre is perhaps best known as a village of artistic creativity and its night-life, so perhaps it is not the brightest witness to Christian values. However, its name as the Mount of Martyrs springs from the martyrdom of Denis, a local bishop, who was beheaded in 250ad for preaching the Christian gospel. Questions are raised in my mind around how Christian witness may be made in those darker corners of human life. The institutional church stands apart and is often seen as only judgemental and distant, but the personal witness of Christians in everyday life is where the light may be reflected into dark corners. And of course the word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’!
My Back Yard
These four paintings carry the title 'My Back Yard'. So often we practice 'NIMBYism', being keen to keep certain people at a distance, or not realising how important they are to us. Others are simply not part of our awareness, yet fulfil a vital role. I count myself privileged that those represented through these paintings have been important influences in my life, and that I have been led to recognise the fact.
These paintings relate to Seafarers, homeless people, those who live with impaired intellectual capacity (learning disabilities, dementia), refugees.
A period as a Director of the Sailors' Society (chaplaincy to seafarers around the world) made me aware of our dependence on these folk who sacrifice much of family life etc. to bring 90% of all we consume to the UK by sea.
Working with Solihull Churches Action on Homelessness highlighted the fact that street-sleepers, whose situation challenges us when shopping, are only a small percentage of the issue, with many others in refuges or sofa-surfing. They are all around us and not always 'down and out'.
The pianists are from the L'Arche Community for people with intellectual disabilities and assistants. The scene begs the question, who is guiding who? We all have gifts to give or receive - relationships are always 2-way.
Work with RESTORE in Birmingham and in helping to settle Syrian refugees in Solihull has put faces to the thousands more represented in news bulletins. It is too easy to consider Calais as none of our business.
In these ways I am conscious of the place of these in my life, but continue to be challenged by the teaching and example of Jesus in the light of which I am aware of my failings.
How do I find beauty in this mess of pigment, oil and scribble?
Is it by capturing a memory of this, or another place, in times past - the sun’s warmth, the buzz of insects, the lazy fish gliding too-and-fro, a gentle breeze caught in the willow fronds, the vibrant colours flickering across the water? Not entirely, for you may have passed by too quickly or not have been there at all.
It is not through great measures of planning on my part, as the artist. I am aware how random much is and that I am not well-trained in the study of colour and light. I strongly sense the image is as much a gift to me, as it is to any viewer and my question is ‘How did I do that?'.
Is it natural intuition or does the Spirit move across the waters of my mind - bringing light, life and colour into being - bringing a strange order to the chaos of stroke and smudge - re-creating what the eye perceives and shaping a fresh beauty for others to behold?
I believe so. It is grace!
Eager to see ...!
Two disciples are eager to see if the story of the open tomb of Jesus is true. They discover the grave cloths inside and then return to where they were staying.
It is puzzling that, while we are told that one disciples 'saw and believed', we also learn that they did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead.
I think that I would expect a similar eagerness to discover what had happened - to discover the risen Jesus and 'put some flesh' on the experience of an empty tomb.
Elsewhere the question is asked of those seeking the body of Jesus 'He is not here. Why do you look for the living among the dead?'
The questions that these incidents leave with me are:
Are we as eager to discover where Jesus is alive today as we are to believe in the empty tomb?
How do we relate faith in an amazing historic event to faith in Jesus who lives today?