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Monday, 15 February 2016

Discover & explore: Life

In today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook we explored the theme of Life using Alan Everett's 'Foundations of the City' exhibition and through choral pieces sung by the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields. These choral pieces included: 'Jubilate Deo' by Orlande de Lassus; 'O Jesu Mea Vita' by Claudio Monteverdi; 'My Spirit Sang All Day' by Gerald Finzi; and 'The Call' by Richard Lloyd. In addition, we reflected on a reading from 'The Dream of the Rood' and the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. Next Monday's Discover & explore service will be on the theme of Love and will be led by Sally Muggeridge.

The reflection I gave today and the intercessions I led were as follows:

I am thrilled to have Alan Everett’s current exhibition here at St Stephen Walbrook for the next few weeks. In inviting Alan to exhibit here I was engaged by the organic nature of his work as he combines the deliberation of his rhythmic mark marking with the more random effects of drips and splashes; all cohering through his overall perception of the evolving work. This way of working is ideally suited to the exploration of construction and destruction, layering and fragmentation, life and death which is to be found in these works and this exhibition. As a result, these paintings are a welcome and contemplative addition to the reflective and prayerful nature of this sacred space and will guide us in our meditation during Lent.

The paintings which use a style of rhythmic mark marking are composed of blocks of colour built up into walls of colour. They take fragments of colour and layer these, thereby building harmonies of difference. In doing so, Alan is demonstrating the way in which fragments of ancient texts or architecture can be brought together to create something greater than the whole. St Stephen Walbrook is itself an example of this occurring, with its modern reordering set within a neo-classical design which is itself built on the ruins of a Roman city.

I want to suggest that something very similar happens in relation to our lives. One of the big debates in child development is about nature versus nurture; whether a person's development is predisposed in his or her DNA, or whether it is primarily influenced by life experiences and environment. The reality is probably that a combination of both occurs in each of us. Our development and maturing is as a result of a mix of factors from genetics, through life experiences to our beliefs. As Christians, it is sometimes easy to think that our development is or should be wholly based on our faith but, again, the beliefs we hold are, in practice, a potpourri or amalgam of our understandings or interpretations of our faith or the Bible held together with all sorts of other influences on us. This is, in part, why we differ in our views as to what the Bible is saying to us or how we ought to act as Christians.

As a result, our lives, like Alan’s paintings, are composed of fragments which we have brought together in unique ways. His exhibition is called ‘Foundations of the City’ and his initial inspiration for the paintings included in it was found in an Anglo-Saxon poem called ‘The Dream of the Rood’. This poem of great imaginative intensity was written when much of England was in deep forest. The Cross appears to the narrator in a dream vision, telling how as a tree it was cut down to share in the Passion of Christ. The cross paintings in this exhibition point us to the foundational event for Christians, which is Christ’s crucifixion. In ‘The Dream of the Rood’ we read “my hope for support / Is turned towards the cross.”

All buildings need a foundation on which to be built, just as most paintings need a canvas on which to be painted. Our lives are no different. Jesus pointed out in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders that all our lives need to be built on a firm foundation. He provides that foundation. St Paul states that, “no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3. 11).

Why is this so? It is because, in Jesus, God is made known and seen in human form and flesh. Therefore, Jesus provides the perfect pattern for us to follow; the perfect basis on which to build a Godly life. Anything else is fallible and will fail us but if we build our life on the pattern or foundation provided by Jesus we can be absolutely sure that we are building on God’s will and way for human beings.

With that confidence, our lives have the strength to survive the storms of life which affect us all. As the hymn writer, Edward Mote, has us sing: My hope is built on nothing less / than Jesus' blood and righteousness; / I dare not trust the sweetest frame, / but wholly lean on Jesus' name. / On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; / all other ground is sinking sand.”

In the storms of life, keep us founded on you and enable us to stand firm. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

In the complexities of life, may we build on the pattern of your life and see the different aspects of our lives come together and cohere. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

Take the fragments of our lives and build harmonies of difference creating something greater than the whole. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

Enable us to build Godly lives by building on Jesus, so we can be absolutely sure that we are building on your will and way for human beings. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.  

Build our hope on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness, so that we may stand when all around is sinking sand. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 


Richard Lloyd - The Call. 

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