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Saturday, 30 November 2013

St John's Christmas Leaflet


Does Christmas start with telly ads in October?
Does Christmas start with the office party?
Does Christmas start with a fight on Eastenders?

No! Christmas starts with Christ.

The Christmas story has been around for a long time, but today it's being forgotten. Just 12 per cent of adults know the nativity story, and more than one-third of children don’t know whose birthday it is. Meanwhile, 51 per cent of people now say the birth of Jesus is irrelevant to their Christmas.

Together we can reverse the trend. Some of the UK’s leading Christian groups, including the Church of England, the Evangelical Alliance and Bible Society, are coming together because they believe Christmas is worth saving. Christmas Starts with Christ is a campaign aimed at helping churches to make Christ and the amazing story of his birth the focus of the nation’s favourite time of year.

The campaign kicks off on December 1st this year with the first-ever nationwide Christmas Starts Sunday, at the beginning of Advent.  The campaign features posters in festive green and red which focus strongly on the message they want to get across, that Christmas starts with Christ.  There are three posters. They ask people to think about when Christmas starts. Is it with the traditional fight on Eastenders? Is it when Christmas ads appear in October? Or is it at the office party? There is also a radio ad and three extra posters, using the same design, which churches can customise for free.

Francis Goodwin of ChurchAds.net, which is coordinating this campaign, says: ‘Christmas is a time when Christians shine light in their communities. But the good news is being lost. We can’t sit back and let that happen. We’re passionate about bringing the church together to remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas.’

Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance says, “I’m excited by this campaign, which really seeks to show that the Church is good news for the nation in every season; not least of all at Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our saviour. The world needs to know that’s why we do what we do.”

Arun Arora, Director of Communications, Church of England says, “Churches do a huge amount to carry the Christmas story into their local communities, through word and deed. Christmas Starts With Christ uses a common logo to ‘join the dots’ of these activities and project a powerful message to our nation that the reason for the season is the birth of Jesus.”

This Christmas let us project that same powerful message as we invite others to church and send Christmas greetings by post, email or social media. The reason for the season is Jesus – Christmas starts with Christ!

Advent & Christmas at St John's Seven Kings -
November/December 2013

 
November  

Saturday 30th   10.30am          Christmas Bazaar – Refreshments, handicrafts, cakes, raffles, preserves, toiletries, games & toys for children, Christmas gifts and many other stalls. Visit Santa in his grotto.

December  
 
Sunday 1st         
10.00am        Advent Reflections Service - poems,  readings and songs
 6.30pm         Advent Service - Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches

Saturday 7th       6.00pm          Tamil Carol Service

Sunday 15th    
10.00am          All-age Christingle Service - a colourful service of music & light (collection for The Children’s Society)
6.30pm          Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at St Peter’s Aldborough Hatch - traditional carols and readings

Tuesday 17th     7.00pm          Carol Singing around the Parish - wrap up warm. Collecting for Haven
House Hospice.

Sunday 22nd      6.30pm          Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by candlelight  - traditional carols and readings

Christmas Eve (Tuesday 24th)
5.00pm        All-age Nativity Service - dressing up & tree lighting - fun for all. Bring a present to
leave under the tree for children helped by Barnados. Collection to Haven House Hospice.
11.30pm     First Holy Communion of Christmas

Christmas Day (Wednesday 25th)
 
8.00am         Holy Communion - Book of Common Prayer
10.00am       Christmas All-age Holy Communion - children, bring a gift you have received to show others

New Years Eve (Tuesday 31st)
11.30pm       Watchnight Service - welcoming the New Year in prayer and reflection
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Red Mountain Music - Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.
 

Sophia Hub Enterprise Clinic


The Seven Kings Sophia Hub features in the latest edition of Just News, the newsletter of the Commission for Justice and Social Responsibility in the Diocese of Brentwood.

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Sly and the Family Stone - A Family Affair.

Christmas Bazaar




We had another great Christmas Bazaar at St John's Seven Kings today which was very well attended with those who came thoroughly enjoying the variety of stalls, games, Grotto and refreshments.

Our social and fundraising committee had great support from our congregation which resulted, once again, in an increased amount raised. The lunches served in our restaurant were highly commended and our Santa's Grotto was, once again, a magical experience for those children who queued to see Santa.

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Slade - Merry Christmas Everyone.  

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Windows on the world (269)


Benidorm, 2013
 
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Arve Henriksen - Portal.

The Servant King

It is an interesting question to consider why most societies in human history have had some form of monarchy? In some respects, it seems a strange thing to do because it involves the majority of people voluntarily giving wealth and power to one person the King.

Why would we allow one person to monopolise power and wealth in that way? Well, it seems to have happened because the King then organised and led the army with the aim of ensuring peace and prosperity for their subjects. Simply put, it was a quid pro quo arrangement on the basis that, if you protect us, well allow you to lord it over us and enjoy a better quality of life.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King but, of course, we are not celebrating Christ as the usual type of human King. We are not even celebrating Christ as a greater type of monarch than our current Queen god-fearing as she is and with greatly curtailed powers compared with many of her forbears. Instead, we celebrate Christ as a King who turns the notion of Kingship on its head; who, as our reading today (Luke 23. 33 - 43) makes clear, is seen as King at the point when he is least powerful and most vulnerable at his own death.

The sign saying the King of the Jews hung over Jesus head as he was dying on the cross was, for Pilate, a statement of the charge against him. For the crowd on Golgotha, it was a source of mockery Save yourself, if you are the King of the Jews! For the second thief, it was a future hope Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King! For Jesus it was a present reality. The second thief asked Remember me when you come as King and Jesus replied, today you will be in Paradise with me. Jesus was saying, Today, not tomorrow or in the future, is when I am King. 

What kind of King deliberately becomes a victim and allows himself to killed though? It is the total reverse of what we expect from a King. In Philippians 2 we read of Jesus letting go stripping himself of everything which made him equal with God in order to become a human being like us in order to serve us. On Maundy Thursday, in particular, we celebrate Jesus decision to become a servant to those he had created when we re-enact his washing of the disciples feet and his words that You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher have just washed your feet. Our Lord and King is also a servant. In fact, service of others is the true vocation and measure of Kingship.

More than this, his service of others, as their King, leads all the way to his death on the cross the laying down of his own life for the sake of others. As Philippians 2 puts it, He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death his death on the cross. The true King lays down his own life for the love of his people (all people). Jesus is that true King who turns the meaning of Kingside upside down. No longer is Kingship to be understood in terms of garnering wealth and power for oneself in other to defend others. Now it is understood to be about service; giving your life that others might live. Jesus, as the servant King, says to us, I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one anothers feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. 

Peter said to Jesus, Never at any time will you wash my feet! Jesus answered, If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple. Some of us, on Maundy Thursday, are like Peter and dont wish to have our feet washed. For whatever reason, we find it difficult to publicly expose our feet and have someone else wash them. How much more difficult, then, do we find it to genuinely follow Christs example of service by laying down our lives for the sake of others? 

Christ challenges all of us, myself included, to let go of the things that prevent us from serving others just as he left all that he had with God in heaven. To allow the force of challenge that Christ as the Servant King poses to us we have to be prepared for the Holy Spirit to question the extent to which we serve others now. Each of us do currently serve and support others in and through this Church as well as in our family, community and work commitments but, equally, each of us, myself included, place constraints on the extent to which we serve others and may use our service of some to mean that we are critical of others. To be true to the revelation of Christ as Servant King, we need to allow God to challenge the extent to which those constraints and attitudes are where he wants us to be.

Christs example of service is a constant challenge to us to confront those areas of our lives where we currently hold back from giving ourselves in service of others. We naturally find it difficult to follow that example of service by fully laying down our lives for the sake of others. But that is what we have to move towards if we are to continue to experience his rule and reign his Kingship - in our lives. Jesus said to Peter, If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple. because if we're not allowing him to serve us then we certainly won't be able to follow in his footsteps by serving others:

This is our God, the Servant King, / He calls us now to follow him, / To bring our lives as a daily offering / Of worship to the Servant King So let us learn how to serve, / And in our lives enthrone him; / Each others needs to prefer, / For it is Christ were serving.

In what ways does the example Christ sets as our King challenge each of us today in this area of serving others? That is the true meaning of the feast of Christ the King.

After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table. Do you understand what I have just done to you? he asked. You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher have just washed your feet. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one anothers feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. I am telling you the truth: no slave is greater than his master, and no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice.

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Graham Kendrick - The Servant King.

Sophia Hub - Enterprise Clinic and 'The Month' article


The Sophia Hub pilot at St John's Seven Kings features in the current issue of 'The Month', the newspaper for the Diocese of Chelmsford - click here to view the article.

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Morten Lauridsen - O Magnum Mysterium.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Church trip to Cité Europe and Veurne
















Today was the annual day trip from St John's Seven Kings to Cité Europe plus another location, which this year was the beautiful town of Veurne in Belgium.

Found at a stone’s throw from the coast and the French border, Veurne has one of the most beautiful market squares of Belgium. The Town Hall has been built in a Flemish Renaissance style and the Viscount Hall is finished with a Belfort Tower (Unesco World Heritage monument). Saint Walburga Church has a vault which is 23 metres high. The church has been richly furnished and boasts beautiful choir stalls in the Flemish Renaissance style plus interesting paintings and statues. A relic from the Holy Cross is kept in this church. Saint Nicholas Church has been built using the typical yellow brick from the region. In the 48–metre high church tower is a small carillon museum. The oldest clock of Veurne (1379), locally called "’t Bomtje", is part of the current carillon.

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Justice - Genesis.

Friday, 22 November 2013

C. S. Lewis: Reconciling reason and imagination

For the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, Westminster Abbey Institute is hosting a series of events marking his career as one of the 20th century's most notable Christian writers and thinkers. As well as celebrating Lewis's remarkable achievements as a writer of fiction, apologetics and scholarship, the series looks at the question of how, in the 21st century, his example may be emulated and his legacy continued.

Yesterday, Alister McGrath and Malcolm Guite delivered lectures examining Lewis's philosophical and fictional approaches to communicating the Christian faith.

McGrath explored the way in which Lewis integrated reason and imagination into his apologetic enabling his writings to connect with both modern and postmodern audiences:

"For Lewis, truth is about seeing things rightly, grasping their deep interconnection. Truth is something that we see, rather than something we express primarily in logical or conceptual terms.

The basic idea is found in Dante's Paradiso (XXIII, 55-6), where the great Florentine poet and theologian expresses the idea that Christianity provides a vision of things - something wonderful that can be seen, yet proves resistant to verbal expression:

From that moment onwards my power of sight exceeded
That of speech, which fails at such a vision.

Hints of such an approach are also found in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, whom Lewis admired considerably. For Chesterton, a good theory allows us to see things properly: "We put on the theory, like a magic hat, and history becomes translucent like a house of glass." Thus, for Chesterton, a good theory is to be judged by the amount of illumination it offers, and its capacity to accommodate what we see in the world around us and experience within us: "With this idea once inside our heads, a million things become transparent as if a lamp were lit behind them." In the same way, Chesterton argued, Christianity validates itself by its ability to make sense of our observations of the world: "The phenomenon does not prove religion, but religion explains the phenomenon."

For Lewis, the Christian faith offers us a means of seeing things properly - as they really are, despite their outward appearances. Christianity provides an intellectually capacious and imaginatively satisfying way of seeing things, and grasping their interconnectedness, even if we find it difficult to express this in words. Lewis's affirmation of the reasonableness of the Christian faith rests on his own quite distinct way of seeing the rationality of the created order, and its ultimate grounding in God. Using a powerful visual image, Lewis invites us to see God as both the ground of the rationality of the world, and the one who enables us to grasp that rationality: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else." Lewis invites us to see Christianity as offering us a standpoint from which we may survey things, and grasp their intrinsic coherence. We see how things connect together."

Guite read Lewis' poem entitled 'Reason' by Walter Hooper which pre-conversion pleads for the reconciliation of reason and imagination that was achieved for him when he understood the incarnation to be true myth:

Set on the soul's acropolis the reason stands
A virgin, arm'd, commercing with celestial light,
And he who sins against her has defiled his own
Virginity: no cleansing makes his garment white;
So clear is reason. But how dark, imagining,
Warm, dark, obscure and infinite, daughter of Night:
Dark is her brow, the beauty of her eyes with sleep
Is loaded, and her pains are long, and her delight.
Tempt not Athene. Wound not in her fertile pains
Demeter, nor rebel against her mother-right.
Oh who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive,
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.

Guite related the prescience of this poem to Coleridge's image in the Biographia Literaria of the chrysalis of the horned fly leaving room in its involucrum for antenna yet to come:

"They and they only can acquire the philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition, who within themselves can interpret and understand the symbol, that the wings of the air-sylph are forming within the skin of the caterpillar; those only, who feel in their own spirits the same instinct, which impels the chrysalis of the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antenna, yet to come. They know and feel, that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them!"

Lewis' imagination creates similar intuitions as conversion and incarnation are explored in and through other worlds, visiting which enable us to see our own with fresh vision as Guite unpacks for us in his own sonnet for C. S. Lewis:

From ‘beer and Beowulf’ to the seven heavens,
Whose music you conduct from sphere to sphere,
You are our portal to those hidden havens
Whence we return to bless our being here.
Scribe of the Kingdom, keeper of the door
Which opens on to all we might have lost,
Ward of a word-hoard in the deep hearts core,
Telling the tale of Love from first to last.
Generous, capacious, open, free,
Your wardrobe-mind has furnished us with worlds
Through which to travel, whence we learn to see
Along the beam, and hear at last the heralds
Sounding their summons, through the stars that sing,
Whose call at sunrise brings us to our King

Today, a memorial to Lewis will be unveiled in Poets' Corner during a service of thanksgiving for his life and work. The preacher will be Rowan Williams and the Abbey choir will sing a newly commissioned anthem, a setting of Lewis’s poem “Love’s As Warm As Tears”.

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Mina Cho - As the Ruin Falls Mvt 1: Always End Where I Begin.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Inspire: art as spiritual exploration








My paintings The Flowering of the Crown of Thorns and Creation: Prayerful attention can be seen currently at St Stephen Walbrook, along with a broad and varied selection of work by other commission4mission artists.

commission4mission committee member Harvey Bradley says of the show which is entitled Inspire: art as spiritual exploration, "What a fantastic exhibition has been set up. I think it looks brilliant and is a credit to all concerned. Even given the spectacular building, the artwork does commission4mission credit."

Open 10-6pm until 29th November (closed Sunday 24th November).  St Stephen Walbrook EC4N 8BN. Nearest tube Bank, Exit 8.

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Julie Miller & Emmylou Harris - Forever My Beloved.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Advent Sunday weekend



This year our Christmas Bazaar at St John's Seven Kings is being held on Saturday 30th November from 10.30am to 3.00pm. This is always a busy and enjoyable community event with plenty to involve and interest all ages. As well as a wide variety of stalls there will also be food, drink, cakes, raffle and games. Each year our bazaar features a wonderful grotto in which children can visit Father Christmas. Families come year in, year out because this Santa's grotto is so special.

The following day, Advent Sunday, will feature our Advent Reflections Service at 10.00am with readings, poems, prayers and visuals for Advent, while the Evening Service at 6.30pm will see more of the same together with music from the combined choirs of St John's and St Peter's Aldborough Hatch in an Advent Service organised by the Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches.

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Christ Church Choir - Advent Responsory.

Windows on the world (268)


Benidorm, 2013
 
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Martyn Joseph - How Did We End Up Here?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Alert to the signs of God in the world

How many of the early signs of Christmas have you spotted? They begin in the shops with displays of Christmas gifts from early autumn while, at work, the Christmas meal or party is being booked. Into November, and the displays of Christmas decorations and foods begin appearing. Then the Christmas displays in shop windows go up and the Christmas lights are put up in Town Centres. Before long the first Christmas decorations go up in a home near you triggering the annual competition to see who can cover their house in the most lights or have the largest illuminated Snowman. Bets begin to be taken on whether we will have a white Christmas and you are given the name of a colleague to buy a Secret Santa present for. Before you know it there are children on your doorstep singing the one carol that they know and people start saying there only X number of days to go. These are some of the signs that Christmas is coming and we all recognise them, probably with dread!

In our gospel reading today (Luke 21. 5 - 9) Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the signs of their times. He wanted them to watch out for what God was doing in their world and it was of vital importance for them because it spelled disaster for Jerusalem as well as vindicating all that Jesus had said and done.

Jesus had told his disciples, the crowds following him and the religious leaders that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed because the people of Israel had not fulfilled God’s plan for their lives. The kind of place that Jerusalem should have become had been set out in Isaiah 2; a place that all nations could come to to hear from God:

“Many nations will come streaming to it, and their people will say,
‘Let us go to up the hill of the Lord, to the Temple of Israel’s God.
He will teach us what he wants us to do;
we will walk in the paths he has chosen.
For the Lord’s teaching comes from Jerusalem;
from Zion he speaks to his people.” 

Instead of that vision happening, the Temple had become a symbol of Jewish identity with all sorts of people excluded from worship at the Temple unless they conformed to the detailed requirements of the Mosaic Law. The Temple and the worship in it was actually preventing the free access to God’s word that God wanted to see for people of all nations. Therefore, Jesus prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed and told his disciples that they had to watch out and be ready for when this disaster would come about.

They had to be watchful and ready because Jesus did not tell them when this would happen, only that it was going to occur. They had to be watchful and ready because this act would vindicate Jesus; would be the final sign that in Jesus God had been acting to defeat evil and bring in his kingdom and rule. To those people who had not encountered the risen Christ, Jesus of Nazareth looked like just another failed would-be Messiah who had died a shameful death. The destruction of the Temple, however, would be the sign that Jesus had been right and that what he had said was true.

Tom Wright, the former Bishop of Durham has said that when they saw this sign, the vindication of Jesus, for themselves, they knew they were to get on with the task of implementing what Jesus had achieved. Jesus believed “that Israel functioned to the rest of the world as the hinge to the door” so “he envisaged his followers becoming … Isaianic heralds, lights to the world.”  

As Christ’s followers today, we inherit that task of putting into practice what Jesus has achieved through his life, death and resurrection. We are the people today who are called to work towards that Isaianic vision of nations streaming to learn what Israel’s God wants them to do, settling disputes among the great nations, hammering swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, and never again preparing to go to war.

How can we do that? Well, here is a story of a father and a rock band who have tried to do just that:

Gordon Wilson held his daughter’s hand as they lay trapped beneath a mountain of rubble. It was 1987, and he and Marie had been attending a peaceful memorial service in Enniskillen, when a terrorist bomb went off. By the end of the day, Marie and nine other civilians were dead, and sixty-three had been hospitalized for injuries.

Amazingly, Gordon refused to retaliate … He knew that the terrorists who took his daughter’s life were anything but remorseful, and he maintained that they should be punished and imprisoned … [but] he refused to take revenge.

‘Those who have to account for this deed will have to face a judgement of God, which is way beyond [my] forgiveness,’ he said. ‘It would be wrong for me to give any impression that gunmen and bombers should be allowed to walk the streets freely. But … whether or not they are judged here on earth by a court of law … I do my very best in human terms to show forgiveness … The last word rests with God.”

On the evening of the Enniskillen bombing, in Denver, Colorado, the Irish band U2 and playing a gig on their world tour. Their lead singer Bono asks, “Where’s the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying, or crippled for life, or dead, under the rubble of the revolution that the majority of the people in my country don't want.” And he leads the crowd in a shout of “NO MORE!” before launching into the song Sunday Bloody Sunday. This is a song which ends:

“The real battle just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won
On a Sunday bloody Sunday …”

Eleven years later, in 1998, U2 are playing another concert. This time it is in Belfast and it is a concert to draw support for the national vote on the Good Friday/Northern Ireland Peace Agreement four days later. In the concert, Bono is able to bring on stage David Trimble and John Hume, leaders of the traditionally opposing Ulster Unionist Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party, respectively. The political leaders stand on each side of Bono as he raises their arms together in a show of unity. Four days later, the Peace Agreement is approved overwhelmingly by voters in both the North and South.

We all know that there are still many difficulties in living with the legacy of terrorism in Ireland and of making and keeping peace. But these are two stories of Christians in very different situations who were looking out for God at work in their world, looking for the signs of peace, and seeking to claim the victory that Jesus won.

Although we have waited two thousand years for the coming of God’s kingdom in full, there have always been clear signs of that coming kingdom throughout the years in the lives of committed Christians like Gordon Wilson and U2. Our job is to join them in being watchful and alert to the signs of God at work in our world and in implementing what Jesus has achieved, claiming the victory that Jesus won on a Sunday Bloody Sunday. 

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U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Anne Creasey: A mystic's métier


Anne Creasey is a multi-talented artist who has worked with great skill in a variety of media including textiles. She has, I believe, recently found her true mystical métier in a new style of painting which is expressive of the interconnectivity of reality. Siloam (above) is an early example of her new style which can be seen, along with a second new work, in commission4mission's Inspire: art as spiritual exploration exhibition at St Stephen Walbrook from 18th - 29th November.

I visited Anne today to collect her work for the exhibition. Although brief today, visiting Anne is always a source of real pleasure and insight because of her open discussion of her spiritual experience. She speaks of being released into this new phase of her work. There is a sense of flow within these new compositions as in her ability to realize the linkages within these interconnected images. As Van Morrison once sang, she ventures in the slipstream between the viaducts of her dream.

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John Tavener - Ikon Of Light

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Sophia Hub Enterprise Clinic


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Brian Kennedy - Life, Love And Happiness.

John Tavener RIP

Where some obituary's tend to simply be a recitation of facts and received critical opinion, the Guardian's obituary of Sir John Tavener seemed to me to be written from the perspective of someone who knew and understood both Tavener's real achievements and what he was seeking to achieve in and through his music:

'... once he had acquired a broadly based audience, his universalist focus continued to result in wonderful works, such as the mass Sollemnitas in Conceptione Immaculata Beatae Mariae Virginis (2006) and the Requiem (2008) for cello, soloists, chorus and orchestra, premiered in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Drawing its texts from Sufi poetry, the Catholic Mass, the Koran and Hindu words from the Upanishad, Tavener explained that "the essence of the Requiem is contained in the words 'Our glory lies where we cease to exist'". Like practically all of Tavener's music, it is a story about a "journey" and becoming "one with God".'

In my co-authored book The Secret Chord, Peter Banks and I discuss the popularity of Tavener, Pärt and Górecki in terms of the contrast between movement and stasis noting Martha Ainsworth's argument that 'they reject values typically associated with contemporary classical music.' In traditional classical music the development of musical ideas is expected with this development moving to a climactic denouement. By contrast, the music of these holy minimalists seems not to go anywhere because its overall purpose is contemplation.

Similarly, Nico Muhly writes in The Guardian: 'To study Tavener's music is to immerse oneself in the subtle vocabulary of stillness and slow change.'

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John Tavener - Eternity's Sunrise.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Australia at the RA

With 200 works by 146 artists, Australia is the most comprehensive survey of Australian art to have been mounted outside of Australia itself. The story told is one of cultural interaction between Australia’s indigenous peoples and its non-indigenous settlers. Sitting alongside this cultural story is the art historical story of the introduction and dominance of Modernism within Australian art.

The art of Australia’s indigenous peoples possesses an integrity and harmony with life and land which is initially absent from the figurative landscape-based art of the early white settlers. Aboriginal art is both made from the land and about the land. Shapes and symbols of the land are mapped on rocks, ground, bark, bodies and, in more recent years, canvas to enact and embody creation narratives and the balance which exists between the spiritual, natural and moral elements of the world.

While the indigenous peoples of Australia lived in the land and the land lived in them, the early white settlers brought with them an observational approach to landscape. Beginning with views of settlements and gradually expanding to depict the wilderness around them, the early settler artists established landscape as the dominant feature of Australian art. The variation and expanse of Australia’s land mass has provided endless opportunities to celebrate its terrain, vegetation, light and human settlements.

Within this has been a conflicted relationship with its indigenous peoples beginning with observational paintings of aboriginal settlements and rituals, through heroic dramatisations of settler activity which excluded on canvas, as in life, the indigenous peoples, and two-way influences (vis-à-vis Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira mastering European styles while Margaret Preston, a supporter of Namatjira, adopted the palette, flat planes and aspects of mark marking of indigenous art), to contemporary commentaries on race relations which are intentionally provocative.

Modern art began in Australia with the plein-air Impressionism of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Condor, among others. The work they produced adapted Impressionism to the particular light and terrain of Australia and artists began to talk of a specifically Australian tradition. The early Modernists emphasised colour and composition in cityscapes, with the newly constructed Sydney Harbour Bridge a particular focus, but the greatest period of Australian art to date featured the Expressionism of Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker. In their works, land, emotion and symbol coalesced by means of Modernism which, nevertheless, had parallels with Australia’s indigenous artists. In them, the land was speaking powerfully, albeit with strangeness and stress, once again.

Within both the cultural and art historical stories told within this exhibition are hints of another spirituality, the Christianity brought to Australia by the settlers. While the key catalyst for the recognition by the art world of Australia’s indigenous art is identified as being the work of Geoffrey Bardon, an art teacher at the local school in Papunya during the 1970s, Christian missions in Eastern Arnhem Land and Hermannsburg in the 1930s led to monumental panels of ancestors by Yolngu artists placed beside the altar of the local mission church together with the launch of the successful career of Albert Namatjira.
Roy de Maistre wrote that colour "constitutes … the spiritual speech of every living thing." Margaret Preston used The Expulsion to protest at the exclusion of Aborigines from their natural lands. Arthur Boyd set the casting out of the money changers from the Temple in Bendigo and Port Melbourne in his protest at materialism and greed. G.W. Bot’s Garden of Gethsemene, with its three slashes representing three crosses, was a response to the death of her daughter in 1999. These examples from the exhibition are symptomatic of a deeper, broader pool of Christian imagery and spirituality within Australian art which is not plumbed by this exhibition but includes work by Justin O’Brien, Leonard French, Eric Smith and Idris Murphy, among others, much of which has been stimulated by the Blake Prize for Religious Art. When explored alongside the spirituality of Aboriginal art, searching for meaning through this strand of Australian art and creativity can, as Sr. Rosemary Crumlin (author of Aboriginal Art and Spirituality and Images of Religion in Australian Art) has said, lead to the finding of deeper ways into our questions about life and meaning.

Similarly, as the RA’s own guide states, this exhibition "reflects the vastness of the land and the diversity of its people, exploring the implications of these realities - and mythologies - for national identity."

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Midnight Oil - One Country.