THE DANCE

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THE DANCE: please click collage or here to go to my art blog and view in Lightbox

SWIMMING IN MYSTERY

Swimming in the Mystery of God – please click photos to enlarge

TODAY WE CELEBRATED our Church’s Dedication Sunday. Wonderfully talented people have decorated the parish church on this day for 102 years – with flowers hand-picked from their own gardens. This year, having hosted Angels in 2010 and Windsails in 2011 (see Lumière below) our Lantern Tower is graced by the gently swimming presence of some of the most magnificent fish I’ve ever seen.

“We swim in the Mystery of God as fish swim in the sea”, said theologian Karl Rahner SJ – in an attempt to communicate the profound faith statement that human beings need no more consider themselves separate from God than we could consider ourselves separate from the air that we breathe. We’re all in this together: God, and everything created by God.

I often share Rahner’s little tale of the elderly, statesmanlike fish gliding past two tiddlers one morning. “Morning boys!” he greeted them. “How’s the water?” The tiddlers ignored him and – flicking their little tails – swam on. A little time later one looked at the other and asked “what’s water?”

Oliver John joined in the swimming with smiling enthusiasm as he was baptised this morning beneath and surrounded by the meanderings of many colourful creatures. And all present dedicated themselves anew to the works of Love in the coming year.

Meanwhile, General Synod prepares for major debate upon the morrow in York. Bishop Nick Baines of Bradford writes of Frustration and Joy here – pointing us (for which, hearty thanks) to an audio link to Archbishop Rowan’s fabulous sermon at the Synod Eucharist this morning. How glad I am, for him, that the good Archbishop will swim ere long in the quieter waters of Cambridge. How certain I am, however, that we’ll miss his gentle touch more than any of us have been able hitherto to imagine.

Still, he encourages us to swim on …

SIT AND EAT

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RESURRECTION is about nothing if it is not about irresistible life bursting forth in people, and out of “tombs”, and out of our millions of daily deaths, and from other most unlikely places. And the food of life is unconditional love. And Love of that sort emanates from the all embracing Heart of an eternally creating God. God bears “blame” for any lack of love by “minding the gap” with what one of our favourite hymns calls Immortal Love, forever full, forever flowing free; forever shared, forever whole, a never ebbing sea. And that kind of Love, in human form, looks like, acts like, speaks like, listens like, prays like, heals like, laughs like, offers hospitality like, weeps like, dies like, and altogether lives like Jesus.

During this season we’re hugely blessed to welcome the artist Stephen Raw – and some of his work – into our hearts and family home. We’ll be hearing more about Stephen and his life and work over the coming weeks, but for now I want to commend to your attention and care-full eye his artwork of George Herbert’s fabulous Love bade me welcome – presently exhibited behind the font in our lantern tower.

For the passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are not just about Him. They’re also about us. They happen to us, to some degree or another, every day of our lives. That’s what Jesus himself taught. Son of Man. He and we are of the same sort. And just when we feel at our most unworthy, just when we feel that our fully human “eye” has caused us most fully to fall into “dust and sin”, just then we’re most likely to notice that “quick-ey’d Love” is smilingly beckoning us in. “Who made the eyes but I?”

And we shall want to remember. And we shall want to serve that kind of life and that kind of Love Whom we now dare to address as “my dear”. We shall want to serve that kind of life and that kind of Love by offering similarly gracious hospitality, following the example of the one Who, for our sustenance offers us his “meat”. And that is indeed a tall task! Radical hospitality is no mean feat! Let’s remember though, when we find the going tough, that our ultimate end is to “sit”, basking in the light of the first of countless Easter mornings – there to “sit and eat”. And in this eucharistic feast – here on earth and then in Heaven – we shall know the depths of God’s solemnity and the heights of God’s life-giving joy at one and the same time …

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert, priest and poet, 1593 -1633

May you know that your self-giving and service in Lent, Passiontide, Holy Week and Easter, with and for our Christ, will be blessed richly – by God’s New Life. And may our household of faith, New every morning, now and in all eternity, pray a joy-filled ALLELUIA!

for Bramhall Parish News

IMAGINING

IMAGINING. I think that’s one of our chief works as humans. It’s how we co-create with the Source of all life. And imagining is what I’ve been doing all day. First in a fairly routine sort of early morning meeting, later in a scintillating encounter between an artist, Stephen Raw, an architect, John Prichard, two churchwardens, Ralph Luxon and Sue Taylor, and a photographing priest who thought he was in photographic heaven, moi …

I took many dozens of photos. Mindful of my manners though I will check with the artist before sharing too many more than the one above. This is a little trio of beautiful articles in a Stephen shaped cave. Not the work of the artist, but absolutely the work of the artist, if you know what I mean? Stephen’s studio feels like a coloured X-ray of his heart and soul and mind and body; a statement of faith and an act of imagination and creation. We came away energised at some profound level. We’d been standing on holy ground. I shall hope to stand there again. And there was good coffee! And cookies.

~

Later in the day I imagined a lovely local man being now in the nearer presence of God. I was deeply moved by his wife Sheila’s beautiful reading of Psalm 121 during a memorial service at nearby All Saints’ where Harry had been the organist until his sudden and unexpected death. The music, sung, played and listened to, together with Fr David’s quite simply superb shepherding of the service, and a fine address, made for one of the very finest funeral thanksgivings I’ve ever experienced. I’m deeply grateful for that and know that Harry’s family must surely be yet more thankful. Harry was an artist in his own distinctive and giving way. Perhaps all of us, in early morning meetings, artist’s studio, thanksgiving service in Church, or wheresoever we may be, are, each and every one of us, artists in our own distinctive ways.

How did  God bring about such an extraordinary work, I wonder? And I only come near being able to approach an answer when I make time in my life to imagine ….

Update: with Stephen Raw’s kind permission: my photos are here

BREATHING SPACE

MY CHURCHWARDENS and I had an astonishingly creative encounter with artist Stephen Raw today – and I’m still buzzing from it. It’s a real delight that the new Arts and Faith Network in the Diocese of Chester exists to foster the (to me so very obvious) links between theology and art, between theology and the arts.

Four people encountered each other today in a literally “sparking” sort of a way. Ideas and colours, and prose and poetry, and heart speaking to heart, and light and dark, and liminal space (what pyschologists call “a place where boundaries dissolve a little and we stand there, on the threshold, getting ourselves ready to move across the limits of what we were into what we are to be”) – made for a scintillating, life-enhancing, praise-full morning. This, for me, is giving God “worth”; proper, Christ-like, celebration of “life in all its fullness”. Worship. Richness. The beauty of holiness … in “the ordinary” that wouldn’t necessarily recognise itself as holy. Such encounters (and you can make any encounter such) afford us Breathing Space, which is to say: they are Life. And I do worship.

LUMIÈRE

Bramhall Lumière - Windsails by Wendy Rudd | photo/simonmarsh

GLORIOUS DURHAM’S Lumière was a sight for sore eyes. Ours is most certainly smaller scale but no less gorgeous. Click the photo above to have a look at the slides – and if you can visit St Michael & All Angels Bramhall sometime between now and Christmas be assured of a warm welcome 🙂

TEXTURES AND CONTOURS

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Collection of the Whangarei Art Museum. Acrylic on canvas

WRITING in her new Making Sense of the Bible about the works of the New Zealand artist Philippa Blair, Helen-Ann Hartley says:

no two displays of her work will ever look the same. In order to view her work, therefore, one has to study the textures and contours and observe the ways in which the colours reflect off one another in that particular context: the art is not flat, nor is our viewing of it!

Absolutely. That’s why we need art and poetry in our lives. And that’s why we need books like this one. For exactly the same words might be said of the Holy Spirit, and that, in turn, is exactly why I find it exciting and inspiring to be a priest in the Church of God today; exactly why biblical exegesis and the wider theological enterprise holds my daily attention. No two displays of Holy Spirit’s work will ever look the same. Her art is not flat, and will and must be viewed from innumerable angles and approaches.

Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, recently preached a sermon about leadership – another human “art” that is not flat, nor is our viewing of it! –  at the end of which she quoted the murdered Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero:

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that can be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there’s a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not the Master Builder; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”