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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Brian Whelan: The exchange of conversation and creativity

Brian Whelan is a raconteur and an artist. As such he goes against the accepted norm of artists by being very ready to talk about his paintings including actively striking up conversations with those who visit exhibitions. His current show, Mystery of the Message, is in the Crypt Gallery at St Martin-in-the-Fields. The Mystery of the Message refers to the cognitive space between the viewer and a work of art, or the distance the pilgrim may have to travel before the journey gives up its meaning. Every figure, plant, animal, inanimate object and gesture in the painting points a way.

Whelan's convivial personality and dialogical practice has resulted in a fascinating book, The Exchange, which is the record of a conversation by email with Lutheran pastor Jeff Frohner about his work. The correspondence between the pair "took on the qualities of a conversation that seemed so authentic that it wasn't long before we were buying symbolic 'pints' for each other as we settled into a comfortable rhythm of meaningful debate."

There is a sacred space, they suggest, created between art and the viewer where "angels and demons sit side by side and join in the conversation"; conversation which continues the life of Whelan's paintings as they are used "to see not only ourselves, but each other, the world and even God more fully." Whelan thinks that "a work of art is only completed when it is shared" and that the work of art exists between the artist and the viewer with the creativity of the viewer enhancing the understanding that the artist has of the work.

In his work Whelan brings together collage with painting; through paint he forms fragments of found objects - sweet wrappers, wrapping paper - into iconic images of characters from biblical, church, mythic and national history which shine through the strength of his colours and from the play of light on his shimmering surfaces. His paintings combine the profundity of play with the original intent of icons to create images which possess both deep past resonance and contemporary surface and shine.


The Pogues - Lullaby Of London.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Seven Kings Dove of Peace

A slightly portly and oversized Dove of Peace has settled outside Seven Kings Station as a celebration of the various Festivals of Light which the different faiths celebrate until the end of the Christmas season.

The dove replaces the Christmas Tree which we have had outside the station for the last couple of years and is supplemented by illuminated signs of the main world religions, including Christianity, all paid for by local businesses and Area 5 committee. As a one-off purchase this 'dove from above' will be with us for several years to come, presumably, thereby, reducing expense in subsequent years as the purchase cost will not need to be repeated year in, year out as with a Christmas Tree.

While, from an aesthetic point of view, the dove leaves a lot to be desired, as a symbol of the multi-faith reality of our community and as a sign of the degree of understanding that is generally evident locally between the different faith groups, this Dove of Peace should be considered as a welcome new resident.


Sabrina Johnston - Peace.

Monday, 29 October 2012

New Book: The Secret Chord (2)

My jointly authored book The Secret Chord, an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life written through the prism of Christian belief, is now available in paperback as well as Kindle. The paperback is being sold directly from Lulu - click here for the link. 

If you're a Kindle user, then the bumper bargain Kindle version at just £1.95 is available by clicking here. If you're not a Kindle user but would like the online version then click here to download free software to run the Kindle version. 

The website for The Secret Chord is also up and running with news, bios, additional links, and room for your comments and views. Click here to access the website and start a conversation about issues raised in The Secret Chord

Click here for initial comments on The Secret Chord and here for a mention of The Secret Chord on the Ritter Records blog. For more news of my fellow author Peter Banks' band, After The Fire, click here.

Special thanks to Sam Norton, Philip Ritchie, Heather Rowe, John Russell, Sean Stillman and Paul Trathen for spreading the word about The Secret Chord.

Rev Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard, author and co-founder of IntoUniversity says "Secret Chord is well written, full of wisdom, great quotes and illustrations. It's great to read something about art and Christianity that embraces such diverse material."

Carol Biss, Managing Director of Book Guild Publishing, says Secret Chord is an interesting and impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life, written through the prism of Christian belief. Covering a huge range of musical styles and influences, from gospel music to X Factor, Secret Chord conveys a great enthusiasm for music and its transformative powers, which readers are sure to find engaging.”

While a significant number of books have been published exploring the relationships between music, art, popular culture and theology - many of which Peter and I have enjoyed and from which we have benefited - such books tend either to academic analysis or semi biography about artistes whose output the writers' enjoy. By contrast, The Secret Chord is an accessible exploration of artistic dilemmas from a range of different perspectives which seeks to draw the reader into a place of appreciation for what makes a moment in a 'performance' timeless and special.


After The Fire - I Don't Understand Your Love.

Windows on the world (217)

London, 2012


Lifehouse - Between The Raindrops. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Life and grief journeys

In the English language we have many words and phrases that use the metaphor of a journey for aspects of our life. When babies are born we say that they have arrived. When we have a big decision in front of us, we say we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. When we are unsure what to do next in our lives we say we are at a crossroads and don’t know which way to go or we might say that our life has no direction and we don’t know where we are heading.
The words and phrases we use suggest that we think of life is being like a journey filled with lessons, hardships, heartaches, joys, celebrations and special moments that will ultimately lead us to our destination in life. The road will not always be smooth and throughout our travels we will be confronted with many situations, some joyful and others filled with heartache. How we react often determines what the rest of our journey through life will be like.

It is the same with grief. We all have stories of grief. We each have our own experiences of life and death, with different memories and different feelings of love, grief and respect. No two grief journeys are exactly the same. Though there are commonalities in losing someone, there are many types of loss. As we said at the beginning of our service we bring before God today those mixed emotions which constitute human grief: numb disbelief and sad bewilderment; the bitterness of anger and the guilt of regret; the deep sense of loss; our helpless and vulnerable feelings when confronted with the fact of our human mortality; and our sense of thanksgiving for the life and work of those we have lost. We are all on a journey through grief.

It might help to think of our journey through life and through grief as a Pilgrimage. Pilgrimages are traditionally journeys to a holy place – places where saints have walked, places where God has met people and blessed them. People through the ages have journeyed with God on pilgrimage – to perform a penance, to ask for healing, to pray for places where there is war or national disaster, to pray for friends. For those who go on Pilgrimage, it is an opportunity to travel lightly, to walk free of daily routines, to meet people, to make friends, to enjoy and celebrate God’s creation. Pilgrimages also provide an opportunity too in the travelling, the conversations and the silences to reflect on the journey of our lives and on our journey homewards to God.

That journey – our journey homewards to God – is one that we undertake in Christ. Jesus is the Way to the Father, as he said to his disciples at the Last Supper. He is the Way - the style - in which we travel as we seek to live out his Way of Love. He is the Way - the direction - of our travel, the one who points us towards abundant eternal life and he is the Way - the road - on which we travel, just like the Prodigal Son we can return home to God the Father because Jesus laid down his life to make that homecoming possible.

Because Jesus has walked the Way before us, so we can now follow in his footsteps. Whatever the terrain of our life-journey, we can walk it in the company of Jesus, so that he becomes our route. Why not resolve to allow him to take over the navigation from this moment on. If you do, from now on, you will be travelling on him, in him and with him.
And the end of our journeying has been memorably described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he said:

‘In the end what matters is not how good we are but how good God is. Not how much we love Him but how much He loves us. And God loves us whoever we are, whatever we’ve done or failed to do, whatever we believe or can’t.’

That expression of faith spoken by a man whose whole life has been one of immense pain and suffering and bewilderment is quite wonderful. I believe it offers hope to us all. Think over the promise Jesus has made to us: ‘Look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ It may help to repeat this from time to time as we let God show us how it affects us and our lives.

Finally, if we are going to walk the Way of Jesus, the Way of Love, then we can’t be solely focussed on ourselves and on our ultimate destination. Instead, we must be aware of and open to others and their needs. As William Blake writes in his poem ‘On Another’s Sorrow’:

Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
As Blake makes clear in this poem, we can do this because it is what God has already done for us:

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh
And thy maker is not by;
Think not thou canst weep a tear
And thy maker is not near.
O! he gives to us his joy
That our grief he may destroy;
Till our grief is fled and gone
He doth sit by us and moan.

Our experiences of God coming into our grief and distress to bring comfort and restoration can then enable us to comfort others as in another poem; this time entitled A Glass of Water:

Here is a glass of water from my well.
It tastes of rock and root and earth and rain;
It is the best I have, my only spell
And it is cold, and better than champagne.
Perhaps someone will pass this house one day
To drink, and be restored, and go his way,
Someone in dark confusion as I was
When I drank down cold water in a glass,
Drank a transparent health to keep me sane,
After the bitter mood had gone again.
Sarton M, Benson G, Chernaik J, Herbert C (eds) (1995) Poems on the Underground: Cassell, London

As we end this service we will pray for God’s healing hand to rest upon us and his life-giving power to flow into every cell of our bodies and into the depths of our souls, cleansing, purifying, restoring us to wholeness and strength for service in his Kingdom. Then, as a result, we will also pray: Have peace with one another as children of one mother. Let each defer to others and may your hearts be one. Have peace with all around you, sweet love of earth surround you, and may no harm confound you or break the peace within.


Gungor - God Is Not A White Man.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Sergio Gomez - The Sacred Beckons

Sergio Gomez is a Chicago based visual artist, Owner/Director of 33 Contemporary Gallery, Curator/ Director of Exhibitions at the Zhou B. Art Center. Founder/Director of, Creative Consultant for Idea Seat Marketing & Advertising, Contributor for Italia Arte Magazine, Co-founder and Creative Director of 3C Wear, curator of the National Wet Paint Exhibition and Chicago's Twelve, graphic designer and art/design faculty at South Suburban College.

Gomez writes: "I am interested in the human and spiritual experience throughout the cycles of life. The human figures stand still, observe, communicate and/or listen, as they exist in their physical state. Overall, I appeal for a sense of human awareness and spiritual consciousness."

Cecilia González-Andrieu writes: "Gomez' use of the human figure grounds his work in the depth of human concerns; his art has our shared plight of suffering, of searching, and of triumph at its center. Far from a dualism that posits a separation between body and transcendence, Gomez's artful technique underscores how A/art points to the indissoluble unity of what is matter and what is spirit. In Gomez's work the use of multiple textures, visible seams, dripping paint, vibrant colors and brushstrokes honors corporality, as his evocative figures celebrate personhood and the world in which we dwell. Yet quite seamlessly, Gomez's works also act like modern icons opening windows and doors into the depths of Spirit, where death never has the last word and the sacred beckons.

In his passionate and passion-making art Sergio Gomez tells a community's story, raises a cry of pain, mediates a vision of hope, and points with care and reverence toward that eternal Other whose love the very beauty of these works brings into relationship with a thankful world."

Presence / Absence is a two-person travelling exhibition of painting works by Sergio Gomez and Mark Zlotkowski.

"Gomez' paintings are fused with meditations on the multifaceted experiences of human condition and spirituality throughout the cycles of life. The human form is the dominant element in his work and it exists as an anonymous representation of the self. Gomez’ delves into the essence of humanity and the human condition". "Zlotkowski’s work bears witness to deeply personal versions of shared human experiences. The work makes sense of seeming paradoxes: the urban meets the wilderness; fires burn without consuming; the mundane, ephemeral stuff of life cracks open to reveal its eternal substance".

Presence / Absence hopes to encourage its audience to a deeper understanding of their own visible and invisible experiences.


Mehran - The Little Song of Hope.

Retreat reading

I'm just back from my annual cell group retreat (with fellow bloggers Sam Norton and Paul Trathen, among others) which this year took place at the Carmelite Priory at Boars Hill. Here are some of the highlights from my retreat reading which reflect our Carmelite setting:

"Applying the practice of the Übersichtliche Darstellung, then, to our 'mystical investigations', here we observe a process of watching or seeing the 'Form of Life' (Lebensform) through the 'language games' (Sprachspiele) that are employed. Our job is not to make mystical interpretations of certain Weltanschauungen but to present 'everything as it is'. The ontological questions no longer concern us. When Wittgenstein's approach is applied to the spiritual realm, its application is neatly summarized by Drury's remarks concerning The Tractatus:

For me, from the very first, and ever since, and still now, certain sentences from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus stuck in my mind like arrows, and have determined the direction of my thinking. They are these:

1. 'Everything that can be put into words can be put clearly'
2. 'Philosophy will signify what cannot be said by presenting clearly what can be said'
3. 'There are, indeed, things which cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are mystical'.
(Drury 1973:iv)

... Drury ... delineated the relationship between (1) the need to speak clearly - the Übersichtliche Blick of the philosopher, and (2) how this relates to the 'unsayable' and the 'mystical'. By delineating what can be said clearly we also delineate what cannot be said but can be shown. This ... is the role of the philosopher who investigates 'the mystical' ... 

the Wittgensteinian approach advocated here concentrates the mystic 'speech act' in it's overall communicative intent; that is, through showing as well as saying. This leads to the notion ... of the 'performative discourse of mystical speech'."

"... the Wittgensteinian move from Weltanschauungen to Weltbild under the Übersichtliche Darstellung - from mind/body Cartesian dualism to a post-enlightenment suspicion of the Cartesian 'I' - mirrors the strategies of 'mystical discourse'. The mystical strategies ... of unknowing and affectivity ... are held alike by the contemporary post-enlightenment discourse of Wittgenstein and the pre-enlightenment discourse of theologia mystica. That is, with the 'postmodern' critique of Cartesian dualism we return to a 'pre-modern' notion of self. Both discourses share similar strategies and ... for both 'style' is as important as 'content'.

Both Teresa and Wittgenstein ... are in their own ways inviting their readers to move 'out of the head' into embodied practices. This ... is the key 'transformational strategy' of both Ludwig Wittgenstein and the writers of the Christian tradition of theologia mystica:

A religious question is either a 'life question' or (empty) chatter. This language game, we could say, only deals with 'life questions'.
(Wittgenstein BEE 183:202)"

Peter TylerThe Return To The Mystical

"Mysticism is a protean term used to signify a variety of disparate phenomena from the sublime to the trivial, from the effusions of the God-intoxicated saint to the babblings of the hallucinogen-intoxicated addict. It runs the gamut from St Teresa's mansions of the soul to Timothy Leary's neural cocoon ... Although mysticism is a puzzle it should be kept in mind that its often exotic language and the bizarre phenomenon associated with it hinge on a single point: If God exists - and the consensus of the Mystics of the Book (that is, the followers of Judaism, Christianity, Islam) believe that He does - then God is the ultimate goal of human life. Moreover, He is a goal which humankind cannot attain by its efforts alone. Divine aid is necessary. The conviction that the beatific vision is grounded on God, the lumen gloriae of the theologians, delivered Christianity from becoming no more than another priggish intellectual sect or esoteric mystery religion ... It can be said that the mystic claims to be able to penetrate the carapace of the external world, view the beauty within, and ascend to its source, the "all-beautiful One" of St Augustine. That the mystic is directed towards this vision is often lost in the horrifying penances and bizarre exotica that glut their accounts." R. A. Herrera, Silent Music: The Life, Work, and Thought of St John of the Cross  

“I would still argue that everyone, no matter how confused or ill-situated in life, can have at least modest mystical experiences. They may be as simple as the beautiful stillness that settles at the sight of a sunset or a brief period of wonder at the birth of a child. Mysticism doesn’t have to be a life profession. Further, I think that much of our depression, anxiety, and addiction has to do with what John writes about: the soul’s need and longing for transcendence. This need is instinctual and unavoidable.” Thomas Moore, Foreword to M. Starr trans., St John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul

“God stripped Job naked and left him on a dunghill, vulnerable and persecuted by his friends. The ground was teeming with worms. Job was filled with anguish and bitterness. This was exactly when God Most High, he who lifts the poor man from the dunghill, was pleased to come down and speak with him face-to-face. This is when God revealed to Job the depths and heights of his wisdom, which he had never done in the time of Job’s prosperity.” St John of the CrossDark Night of the Soul

"Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?" 

 "Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God." 

"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament." 

Brother LawrencePractising the Presence of God 


Steve Bell - Kindness.

Sounding the Seasons and Keening for the Dawn

Malcolm Guite will be launching his book of sonnets Sounding the Seasons in St. Edward King and Martyr Cambridge at 7:30pm on the 5th December.

"Poetry has always been a central element of Christian spirituality and is increasingly used in worship, in pastoral services and guided meditation. In Sounding the Seasons, Cambridge poet, priest and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite transforms seventy lectionary readings into lucid, inspiring poems, for use in regular worship, seasonal services, meditative reading or on retreat. Already widely recognised, Malcolm's writing has been acclaimed by Rowan Williams and Luci Shaw, two leading contemporary religious poets. Seven Advent poems from this collection will appear in the next edition of Penguin's (US) Best Spiritual Writing edited by Philip Zaleski, alongside the work of writers such as Seamus Heaney and Annie Dillard. A section of practical help and advice for using poetry creatively and effectively in worship is also included."

During the launch Malcolm will also be playing some tracks from his collaboration with Steve Bell which has resulted in the album Keening for the Dawn. Steve writes:

"Until a few years ago, I didn’t know what the “Great O Antiphons” were – although I was well acquainted with the song that preserves the tradition and the seven ancient, prophetic names for the Christ ... The church has traditionally meditated on these antiphons during the last seven days of Advent from December 17 – 23. Last fall when I began to discover the breadth of Malcolm Guite’s poetry, I found he had written seven sonnets corresponding to each of the O Antiphons, and in reflecting on them, the tradition came alive for me in a way I wasn’t expecting. What had been (for me) a beautiful but often dirgy Advent hymn, suddenly became ablaze with revelation."


Steve Bell - Shepherd of Life.

Poetry in the Crypt

Poetry in the Crypt is an occasional reading series which takes place in the crypt below St Mary's Church on Upper Street, Islington. Its origins are as a series of informal poetry reading evenings arranged by Graham Claydon, then vicar of St Mary’s Islington. Nancy Mattson and Mike Bartholomew-Biggs now run the events and have introduced the idea of inviting one or two guest poets to complement the contributions from church members combined with
 a welcoming poetry cafe and bookstall.

The next event is on Saturday 17th November from 7.00 pm and features:
  • Pat Borthwick lives in rural Yorkshire. Her three full-length poetry collections are Between Clouds and Caves (Littlewood Arc), Swim (Mudfog) and Admiral FitzRoy’s Barometer (Templar, 2008). Her poems have won many prizes including the 2011 Keats-Shelley Poetry Award and the 2012 Basil Bunting Award. She has been writer in residence in such places as Chesterfield Canal, Clipstone Colliery, Northern Allotments and now the RSPB at Bempton Cliffs. A former NAWE chair, Pathas worked in schools and as an Arvon tutor.
  • Martina Evans is an Irish poet and novelist who lives in London. Her fourth poetry collection, Facing the Public(Anvil, 2009) was a TLS Book of the Year and received the PieroCiampi International Poetry Prize. Her fourth novel is a book-length prose poem sequence, Petrol (Anvil, 2012). She has taught creative writing at University of East London, City Literary Institute and on tutored Arvon retreats. Her specialist workshops include ‘Where Poetry Meets Film’ and ‘Journey with Joyce’.
  • Norbert Hirschhorn, a physician who specializes in international public health, was commended in 1993 by President Bill Clinton as an “American Health Hero.” He now divides his time between London and Beirut. His poetry has been published in four pamphlets and three full-length collections: A Cracked River (Slow Dancer Press, London, 1999), Mourning in the Presence of a Corpse and Monastery of the Moon (Dar al-Jadeed, Beirut, 2008 &2012).  His poetry has won a number of prizes in the US and UK. 
Admission £4. Poets from the floor welcome. Free cakes & coffee! Proceeds will support Hospice Care Kenya St Mary’s Church is on Upper Street, London N1 2TX, midway between Angel and Highbury & Islington tube stations. Buses 4, 19, 30 and 43. On arrival, please watch for signs directing you to the entrance to the crypt. For more information contact Nancy Mattson:


Martina Evans - Petrol.

Stanley Spencer Gallery, Dorchester Abbey and St Mary's Iffley

The Stanley Spencer Gallery is celebrating Its 50th Anniversary this year with an exhibition which includes ‘The Last Supper’ and ‘St Francis and the Birds’ among the highlights. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, preached at the service to mark the Gallery’s Anniversary and has also published ‘Christ in the Wilderness’, a series of reflections on paintings by Spencer from the series of the same name.
Bishop Stephen writes of going, in 1991 the centenary of Spencer’s birth, to see The Apotheosis of Love, an exhibition which created for the first time “a display that echoed the various plans that Spencer drew up for what he called his ‘Church House’”, which included the ‘Christ in the Wilderness’ series. This series made a huge impact on the Bishop when he saw them, as paintings about vocation, and over the past twenty years he has frequently reflected on them in talks given at conferences, retreats and study days.
One of the original inspirations for the series was the 40 panels in the chancery roof at Cookham Parish Church, which Spencer wished he could fill in some way. Bishop Stephen writes:
“Between 2004 and 2010 I had the great privilege of serving as Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. Being Bishop of Reading essentially meant that I was Bishop of Berkshire and so this also meant Bishop of Cookham. I found it moving to lead worship in Cookham Church; to visit the place in the churchyard where Stanley Spencer’s ashes are buried and the beautifully restored and re-ordered Stanley Spencer gallery; to walk by that bit of the River Thames that Spencer knew so well. Sometimes when I was celebrating the Eucharist I would look up to the chancel ceiling and imagine these paintings looking down at me.”
Dorchester Abbey is a popular venue for music and the arts which earlier in the year hosted the exhibition ‘John Piper and the Church’. The artwork here ranges from a medieval lead font decorated with the figures of eleven apostles, a stained glass roundel dating from 1225, and C.14th wall paintings of the crucifixion to late Pre-Raphaelite Lady Chapel decorations and contemporary choir stalls, processional cross and altar frontal.

CADA (Contemporary Arts in Dorchester Abbey) commissions art exhibitions and performances to take place in Dorchester Abbey. By bringing exhibitions within the ancient walls of the Abbey, CADA nurtures and sustains the traditional relationship of art and religion. In doing so CADA hopes to establish a dialogue between contemporary art and this unique sacred space, and to broaden the spiritual experience of all who come here.

Conrad Shawcross writes: ‘The Abbey is a conceptual environment in which one is given space and time to consider the important questions that circle you. It is a place that provides the opportunity for the manifold problems and stresses of our lives to be sorted and reconciled. As an artist I am always trying to create works that, while I have specific inspirations, retain an ambiguity and resist a clear interpretation, providing a multitude of possibilities for the viewer. For me a church operates in a similar way, while being designed and built from very specific intent, it goes beyond this, and is more than the sum of its parts, its broad and layered meaning lying more in the introcosm in each who inhabits and passes through the space’.
St Mary’s Iffley also has a significant history during which, as a living building, it has been adapted to meet the needs of those using the building and to reflect fresh emphases in Christian belief. Most recent are two Baptistry windows installed in 1995 and 2012 and an aumbry with limestone sculptures:
“The South window, by John Piper installed in 1995, shows the Tree of Life, with birds and beasts announcing Christ’s Nativity in Latin, which may be made to sound like the noises these animals make naturally... The North window, by Roger Wagner and installed in 2012, depicts the Tree of Life in full blossom, with Christ crucified, but in the glory of the coming Resurrection. From beneath the Tree flows the River of Paradise apparently towards the baptistery font, the waters of which when blessed are symbolically from that River. Sheep representing Christ’s flock shelter under the branches ... the ... aumbry ... [is] the work of Nicholas Mynheer, it has been sculpted in limestone with an oak door and depicts the angels at the empty tomb ... This is the first figural sculptural addition to the church since the twelfth century.”

Roger Wagner created his vision of the tree of life with the help of stained glass artist Tom Denny: “It was a rather daunting process, but Tom Denny, a good friend of mine, showed me the ropes. He is one of the greatest stained glass window makers in England at the moment.” Information about an art trail highlighting the work of Tom Denny can be found here.
There is also an additional Chelmsford Diocese connection here as the Dean of Chelmsford Cathedral, Peter Judd, was Vicar of St Mary's Iffley in the period when the Piper window was commissioned and installed. He spoke about the commission during a Study Day at Chelmsford Cathedral organised by commission4mission and has overseen a significant number of contemporary commissions at the Cathedral which make it one of several examples of good practice in commissioning within the Diocese of Chelmsford (see here and here, for others).
Stephen Cottrell, in writing of the paintings of Stanley Spencer, sums up something of the way in which these artworks speak:
“His paintings are iconic, in the literal sense of that word: windows into God, or, as Spencer alludes, places of encounter, burning bushes ... They lead us to stillness, to contemplation, to a greater appreciation of God’s presence, and an increased desire to know Christ and follow in his way.”


John Mellencamp - Paper In Fire.

Windows on the world (216)

London, 2012


The Waterboys - Fisherman's Blues.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Murphy, McCahon and Buber

"Idris Murphy’s extensive career as a painter has been widely lauded. Since 1988, Murphy has been Lecturer at UNSW’s College of Fine Arts, Sydney, and in 1994 received his Doctorate of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong. Acknowledged as one of the most influential landscape painters in Australian contemporary art, his work is held in the public collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, Canberra and the Art Gallery of NSW. In 2009, following a New Zealand tour, a survey exhibition of Murphy’s work—I-Thou—was held at King Street Gallery on William and at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sydney."

Murphy said that "the things that enticed me originally to go to New Zealand: Colin McCahon, to see the land and to see what he has made of it, and from it, first hand. To somehow use it as a contrast to the desert country that I am most at home with."

John McDonald wrote: "This intense identification with the landscape can be felt everywhere in this survey. It is a relationship that comes naturally to Aboriginal artist but requires strenuous efforts on behalf of Westerners, who have to break with the pictorial habits of a lifetime. Whereas most non-indigenous artists tend to objectify the landscape, Murphy tries to fuse his own subjectivity with the mood and spirit of a place. The results are far from realistic but they are powerful and persuasive. This quest entails a leap of faith on behalf of the artist, a willingness to believe in a greater truth that lies beyond the veil of appearances. In trying to discern the atmosphere conjured up by these paintings, one might use the word “spiritual” with confidence and “mystical” with only slight embarrassment."

Murphy "titled the show I and Thou, after the small but influential book by the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. It is a basic existentialist idea, that one only becomes “I” through understanding one’s existence in relation to an “Other”; but Buber extends this to the relationship between a human being and God, and even to his own relationship with a tree. It is the tree idea for which Murphy has a special affection. In the catalogue he quotes Buber’s words: “In considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is no longer It.”

Murphy writes: "When looking back and considering the 'influences' on my work, several artists and writers come to mind; these may be more or less influential at any given time. There are though, certain connections that hold and seem to be continuing. Martin Buber has been one of these connections; often encountered in quotes by other writers. Buber's articulation of how we respond to the world has been seminal to my way of seeing and therefore how I 'see' my paintings. The Martin Buber connection (exemplified by McMahon's Painting I-Thou) added to my interest in the work of Colin McMahon; in particular the way in which he depicted land ... As the difference between the truth of a painting and the truth about a painting are significant. Buber's writings have for me been a way of continuing my assessment of western paradigms in painting and have added to my encounter with indigenous art."

I and Thou "is one of McCahon’s earliest ‘word’ paintings, in which words are presented as the main imagery. The words have a physical presence, appearing as three dimensional, solid forms in space, while still maintaining their linguistic function. The fracturing of the picture surface and the spatial ambiguities of the image clearly indicates the artist’s familiarity with Cubist notions of constructing space. The presentation of the words also resembles the handiwork of signwriters, whose craft had interested McCahon since youth."

"In the first ‘word paintings’ by McCahon each image is constructed in a manner best described as ‘architectural’. To compose the paintings I Am ... and I and Thou ... McCahon has rendered each phrase in block letters, achieving pictorial illusion through the restriction of colour and the placement of the words on (or in) an ambiguous background. Dating from February 1954, both images are notable for their strong vertical, linear structure.

The source for each title is clear. ‘I and Thou’ is the title of a book by the theologian Martin Buber. ‘I am’, which McCahon re-employs in several guises in later works, is drawn from Exodus 3:4–6:

‘Then Moses said to God, “if I go to the Israelites and tell them that the God of their forefathers has sent me to them, and they ask me his name, what shall I say?” God answered “I AM that is who I am. Tell them I AM has sent you to them.”’

Of course in McCahon’s painting of this name, an ambiguity is present. For while the ‘I’ in ‘I AM’ is the God of the Old Testament, it is also possible to read it as a statement of affirmation by McCahon, who with these words reasserts himself as an artist.

In respect of the work I and Thou 1954, critic Francis Pound has a further suggestion – that the ‘I’ is floating around in Cubist space because everything is still unclear: a New Zealand culture has not yet been formed. The ‘I’ moves around in time and space.!"


I And Thou - Go or Go Ahead.

Post Olympic and Paralympic events

We enjoyed an excellent Men's Breakfast at St John's Seven Kings this morning hearing from three of our Games Makers about their experiences at the Olympic and Paralympic Games - Senthur Balaji was at the Excel Centre for the Olympics, Doug Feather at the North Greenwich Arena for the Paralympics and Bob Keenan who was a driver at the Paralympics. Our Mothers' Union branch will also be having a presentation shortly from other St Johns' members who were Games Makers and on Wednesday 7th November (7.30pm) we will host a deanery Sports Thanksgiving Service.


Coldplay - Yellow

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Heart of Things

The Heart of Things is an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Paul Hobbs and Sarah Kelly-Paine at the Menier Gallery from Tuesday 15 - Saturday 28 October, Mon - Sat 11 - 6, Fri 11 - 8, closed Sun.

Sarah Kelly-Paine's oil paintings use earthy colours and patterns drawn from nature and reflect her exploration of the organic nature of a creator God. She writes that the aspects of painting that always thrill her are colour, pattern and story. She finds deep satisfaction in a repeated pattern and feeds her imagination from trees, plants and earth. Her work, with its dots, dashes, flowing lines and circles, has synergies with the work of aboriginal artists.

Paul Hobbs’ conceptual work explores contemporary issues in the light of biblical values. His new installation ”Ten Words” comprises two sets of 165 wooden blocks giving telling glimpses of contemporary stories in relation to some time-worn words. Fragmentation characterises his works; small pieces separated but, like puzzles, which can be built to form a whole.


Tom Jones - Charlie Darwin.   

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Our Holy Scriptures: an invitation to share in a conversation about the nature of life

This evening I spoke on 'Our Holy Scriptures' at the East London Three Faiths Forum where I said the following:

In a context where we are attempting to dialogue about our different faiths and where the strapline is that “there can be no peace between the religions without religious dialogue,” I thought it may be appropriate to speak about the Christian scriptures as a site for dialogue.

Scriptural Reasoning,’ which is championed in the UK by the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme sees Jews, Christians and Muslims meeting to read passages from their respective Holy Scriptures together. Together they discuss the content of those texts, and the variety of ways in which their traditions have worked with them and continue to work with them, and the ways in which those texts shape their understanding of and engagement with a range of contemporary issues. The goal is not agreement but rather growth in understanding one another's traditions and deeper exploration of the texts and their possible interpretations. 

What I would like to explore is why, from a Christian perspective, it is possible to do this with our holy scriptures and to do that I need to begin by talking about the form or shape of the Christian scriptures.

When we think about the form and shape of the Christian scriptures we need to remember that we are not speaking of one book but a collection of books. Maggi Dawn has, for example, written that the Bible’s: "stories are not laid out chronologically, and it is the work of so many different authors, in different genres and from different times, that although it seems like a book it would be more apt to call it a small library." Similarly, James Barr has said that the Bible needs “to be thought of not so much as a book but as a cave or cupboard in which a miscellany of scrolls has been crammed."

Other images for this diversity of form and content which I have found helpful include Mike Riddell’s description of the Bible as "a collection of bits" assembled to form God’s home page or Mark Oakley’s more poetic image of the Bible as "the best example of a collage of God that we have.” Riddell and Oakley both develop their images of the Bible from the recognition that the whole Christian Bible contains, as Oakley says, “different views, experiences, beliefs and prayers” drawn “from disparate eras, cultures and authors” which are not systematic in their portrayal of God. As Riddell states:

“The bits don’t fit together very well – sometimes they even seem to be contradictory. Stories, poems, teachings, records, events and miracles rub up against each other. They come from all over the place, and span at least 4,000 years of history.”

This is not surprising when there are in the New Testament, for example, four Gospels not one, when there are at least two different accounts of St Paul’s conversion and ministry, and when the principal form of the New Testament – the letter – is the form of long-distance, written conversation where we don’t have all the letters which originally formed that conversation.

To ignore the disparate nature and form of the Christian scriptures is to run significant risks as Riddell warns us:

“ … let us be aware that the assembled parts of the Bible are collected in a somewhat haphazard fashion. To push them into chronological order requires a great deal of scholarship, and runs the danger of doing violence to the material.”

The Christian scriptures, then, do not move forward in the smooth linear style of, for example, a nineteenth century novel, an academic thesis, a sermon or a systematic theology. Reading the Bible in terms of linearity or chronology is a stop-start process involving multiple perspectives on the same key events or characters and extensive wastelands where little or nothing of significance happens or is recorded.

The literary critic Gabriel Josipovici describes well how this works when he writes of the Hebrew scriptures. He suggests that the scriptures work “by way of minimal units laid alongside each other, the narrative being built up by slotting these together where necessary”. This form then affects the content because “events are laid out alongside each other, without comment, and we are never allowed to know whether the pattern we see emerging at one point is the true pattern”:

“This is an extraordinarily simple and an extraordinarily flexible system, which can lead from what could almost be described as shorthand to rich elaboration … Each new element … helps to bring into focus prior elements which we would have overlooked had we not been alerted to them by what follows.”

Despite the Christian scriptures having this form there is also a clear story which is threaded through the disparate and fragmented books and genres of the Bible. Josipovici also writes:

“It’s a magnificent conception, spread over thousands of pages and encompassing the entire history of the universe. There is both perfect correspondence between Old and New Testaments and a continuous forward drive from Creation to the end of time: ‘It begins where time begins, with the creation of the world; it ends where time ends, with the Apocalypse, and it surveys human history in between, or the aspect of history it is interested in, under the symbolic names of Adam and Israel’.”

So, what we have in the Christian scriptures is a both/and. A linear narrative thrust is combined with fragments of writings or story that are laid side by side so that each fragment adds to and challenges the others.

The biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, similarly, suggests that the Bible has both “a central direction and a rich diversity” which means “that not all parts will cohere or agree” although it has a “central agenda.”  The Bible is, therefore, structured like a good conversation with a central thread but many topics and diversions. On this basis, Brueggemann emphasises that “the Bible is not an “object” for us to study but a partner with whom we may dialogue.” In the image of God, he says, “we are meant for the kind of dialogue in which we are each time nurtured and called into question by the dialogue partner.” It is the task of Christian maturing, he argues, “to become more fully dialogical, to be more fully available to and responsive to the dialogue partner”:

“… the Bible is not a closed object but a dialogue partner whom we must address but who also takes us seriously. We may analyze, but we must also listen and expect to be addressed. We listen to have our identity given to us, our present way called into question, and our future promised to us.”

It is not only the form of the Bible, however, which makes it a site for dialogue but its content as well. Again writings about the Hebrew scriptures can help open our Christian eyes to aspects of the scriptures we may have overlooked. For example, Jonathan Sacks commenting on Midrash Raba in his fascinating series of Faith Lectures, states that:

“Abraham says: God, why did you abandon the world? God says to Abraham: Why did you abandon Me? And there then begins that dialogue between Heaven and Earth which has not ceased in 4,000 years. That dialogue in which God and Man find one another.”

“Only thus,” Sacks says, “can we understand the great dialogues between God and Abraham and Moses and Jeremiah and Job”

Similarly Mike Riddell has noted that for Christians “Jesus represents the essence of God’s desire to communicate with humanity.” Jesus is “the self-communication of God.” This is why he is ‘the Word of God’ and this is why Erasmus, in his 1516 translation of the New Testament, translated ‘logos’ as ‘Conversation’ not ‘Word’. A contemporary paraphrase of the Prologue to John’s Gospel based on Erasmus’ translation reads as follows:

“It all arose out of a conversation, conversation within God, in fact the conversation was God. So God started the discussion, and everything came out of this, and nothing happened without consultation.

This was the life, life that was the light of men, shining in the darkness, a darkness which neither understood nor quenched its creativity.

John, a man sent by God, came to remind people about the nature of the light so that they would observe. He was not the subject under discussion, but the bearer of an invitation to join in.

The subject of the conversation, the original light, came into the world, the world that had arisen out of his willingness to converse. He fleshed out the words but the world did not understand. He came to those who knew the language, but they did not respond. Those who did became a new creation (his children). They read the signs and responded.

These children were born out of sharing in the creative activity of God. They heard the conversation still going on, here, now, and took part, discovering a new way of being people.

To be invited to share in a conversation about the nature of life was for them, a glorious opportunity not to be missed.” (John 1: 1-14 revisited)

Rowan Williams makes a similar point in his book ‘Christ on Trial’ where he writes:

“All human identity is constructed through conversations, in one way or another. The gospel adds the news that, in order to find the pivot of our identity as human beings, there is one inescapable encounter, one all-important conversation into which we must be drawn. This is not just the encounter with God, in a general sense, but the encounter with God made vulnerable, God confronting the systems and exclusions of the human world within that world – so that, among other things, we can connect the encounter with God to those human encounters where we are challenged to listen to the outsider and the victim.”

So, for Christians, to be able to enter into the conversation initiated by God by encountering the subject of the conversation – God made vulnerable – is what forms our identity. This puts dialogue at the centre of our faith and our holy scriptures which can then mean that the kind of dialogue between scriptures which occurs in processes like Scriptural Reasoning can be seen as a significant expression of something which is at the very heart of Christian faith.  


Sufjan Stevens - All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands.