QUICK SHADOWS

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AUTHENTIC FAITH? – where is it to be found? What makes for authenticity? – the kind that children instinctively understand when it’s present, and shrink from when it’s not. Is the worship we’re offering today authentic? Does what we do religiously represent what we believe truly? Does our worship give worth-ship – honoured recognition of “the place” of the Source of All Life in our lives? Does our church community strike others as genuinely Godly? As Real?

This is the stuff with which Kaleidoscope – a kind of theological think-tank, a Breathing Space, a round-the-table-home-seminary is engaging in our parish. How do we shape our offering of Worship to God in ways that make it possible for ALL people (everyone, female and male, of all ages) truly to offer themselves – in Church and in daily life.

kaleidoscope

The word authentic features again and again in our discussions. The word authentic invites us, over and over, to an honest assessment of the way things actually are in the Church and the world of the twenty-first century so that we can even begin to get a handle on the shape of things to come.

The word authentic invites us to ask why many shrink from the “life and witness” of the contemporary Church. And this involves some hard thinking, together with vigorous appeal to our imaginations. This in turn leads to the stirrings of worth-ship, to an as-yet rather nebulous, shapeless but nevertheless-Real excitement.

This grappling “in the Spirit” with Word and Sacrament brings us into company with the very first disciples of Jesus of Nazareth – bewildered, even stupefied sometimes, like them, in the company of parables we can’t quite grasp the meaning of but recognise are important somehow and which, invited or not, echo repeatedly, somewhere in the depths of us. Why do you speak in parables? – we ask, like frustrated disciples before us. And Jesus smiles. Silently. Calling us home to a new authenticity, to a new (blessed relief!) un-knowing, un-doing.

The Welsh priest and poet R S Thomas was certainly authentic – sometimes even to the point of seeming brutal, harsh, even hopeless. Tonight we shared a bit of the truth that he found himself up against in his lifetime and we know that this, too, will echo and challenge and plead with us to persevere …

The Chapel

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.

But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.

R S Thomas
Collected Poems, page 276

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.

WHERE ALPHA & OMEGA?

Melanie Weidner, Quaker Artist

I’VE BEEN INVITED to contribute some Breathing Space at the launch of the new Art and Faith Network in Chester Diocese, to be held tomorrow at the studios of the sculptor Stephen Broadbent, one of whose early works is the stunning Water of Life in the Cloister Garden at Chester Cathedral.

Hmmm! Problem. Where Alpha and where Omega? I know I can talk for England on a subject as interesting and diverse as “the interaction between theology and the arts” – but I’ve also grasped the notion behind the day’s title: Breathing Space. There needs to be time for some. And time for gathered artists to tell each other a bit about their own stories. That’s the point of the Network. But it’s also the launch. No precedents. I shall need to be disciplined. Like an artist. Some clear shape, a bit of direction, a bit of art and a bit of theology. But not too much.

So I’ve chosen four mainstays: a couple of the wonderful poems of the Quaker teacher, Parker J Palmer (one of my heroes and a man who likes a lot of quiet); and two of the paintings of another Quaker, the gifted Melanie Weidner; the famous “An Artist in His Studio” by Rembrandt; and a tentative word (you will understand!) about Stephen’s Water of Life – Jesus and the Woman at the Well … but you can bet your bottom dollar that a gathering of a few priests and some artists in one place for much of a day is going to produce a heck of a lot more than that.

With Melanie Weidner I’ve found that the “problem” has initially brought forth a “damn”. And now a quiet, “well this could be fun”. Tomorrow I shall hope to be able to report not “Damn”, but “I mean, thank you