Friday, 21 September 2007

Engaging with Light and Shade

"As I get older, I've found that there is a spiritual language to being an artist.
You really have to open up to an inner voice, guiding and assisting in what you do.
One of the 'massages' is to ignore those people who are seeking to make you a copy of someone else.

When I journey in directions I have not explored, sometimes against the grain, that's when my art really begins to speak to me".

Steve Hanks.

It's just like one of those 'first thing in the morning' moments - you know, when you've just got up, and you either scare or depress yourself silly by the image that confronts you as you look in the bathroom mirror...
I used to have a big problem with the whole question of what it meant to be 'spiritual'.
I would read Bible passages like Romans 8:1-8 and think 'Boy, I really haven't begun to get myself together - I'm still deep in the bowels of Romans 7!'

There's been a whole industry of 'how to' pietism built on this one - schools of 'holiness' living that urge you into all sorts of 'christian' duties. The trouble is, such constant introspection can often lead to serious legalism or self-righteousness or at the very least, deeper anxiety that you're just not living up to the grade.

Well, the good news is that is exactly what we're told - none of us make this grade, but that does not mean we're not redeemed.

The personal change came when I finally realized that my spirituality was all to do with the physical. Yes, the poison of sin is that it destroys, demeans and divides, but the reality is that right now, amongst our frail, weak minds and bodies, Christ has come and is renewing even this sorry state in something glorious (Romans 8:9-11). This means that we are dealing with a whole new situation with regards to this present world, which is why Paul spends much of the rest of this letter discussing some pretty down to earth things.

There's a key theme which runs through the New Testament when we allow this truth to fall into place - we have been made free: free to love, free to live, free to engage, free to begin to recognize the work of reconciliation. When that becomes the truth, then life once more becomes worthwhile, and we can even smile (occasionally) at the face in the mirror!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Coming Home

"How much more appealing is the Bible’s final scene in which God moves house, bringing his dwelling to earth, where he lives with us there, wiping away our tears and seeing to it that everything that makes life bad is taken away. That is good news to hope for … It forces us to take this kind of life -bodily life in a physical world – seriously, because we will, apart from a possible brief interlude, experience nothing but this kind of life for ever and ever…"

Paul Blackham

When it comes to a good read, I absolutely love a well written 'classic' period Star Trek novel.
You can always tell when such a book has been crafted with care - in a few pages, I'm back amidst the decks of that famous TV star ship, hearing the voices of the characters that have become as much a part of my life as the people and places that I cherish.

A few years back - sad person that I am - I attended a Star Trek exhibition in London. There were some amazing exhibits, but the one that struck me the deepest was a full size re-production of the bridge of the original USS Enterprise. I have spent so many hours in that place - the novels allow me to entertain a very pleasant fiction that somewhere, right now, that beautiful ship is carrying the likes of Kirk, Spock and Mc Coy into another inspiring adventure....

Of course, many people ascribe to fictions that are far more distressing.
Somehow, Christianity for much of the last twenty centuries (yes, that long), has been plagued by the mis-understanding that any 'dream' or desire related to seeing life here and now lasting forever is misguided and incorrect - that 'heaven' is the final address for our souls, so get ready to become something other than a human being.
That always makes a huge question jump right up in front of my eyes - if God had just meant us to be ethereal, disembodied 'souls' all along, why did He bother with the whole business of making the physical world - why wasn't He just content to bring out a different 'brand' of angels?

When God viewed all that He had made in Genesis, He was very pleased with everything that constituted what can be defined as the physical universe, and there's a key reason why. In the last few pages of Revelation, we discover that this is where God intends to permanently 'house' heaven - to make Creation, redeemed and glorified through Jesus Christ, His eternal home.
Rather than seeing the universe around us as some temporary stop-over that we just 'pass through' to get to 'the other side', we need to realize that sin and death have introduced a foreign interruption into something which God intends to last forever.

I cannot begin to tell you, as an artist and a 'dreamer', how vital this truth has become to me. All the moments of wonder, joy, amazement, beauty and splendor that have coloured life here will find a depth and completion in tactile eternal life that we cannot yet even begin to fully comprehend...

Who knows - perhaps the day is coming when we will indeed travel through the stars and really begin to see the array of God's handiwork in a very direct way; but of one thing I'm sure - this is our home, and it always will be.

Monday, 10 September 2007

The Deepest View

'It's the hardest kind of need, that never knows a reason,
are we such a lonely breed, or just born in a lonely season,
Baby, it's all in the eyes, it's where the reckoning begins,
it's where we linger like a sigh, it's where we long to be pulled in,
it's where we learn to say goodbye, without saying anything,
just standing on the borderline, outside looking in".

Mary Chapin-Carpenter.

Stormy weather - one of those dry, unbearable nights where you just can't sleep because you can't get comfortable, and where it's just too still to allow your thoughts to rest...
That's what, I think, we often find in the soul of people, 'behind the eyes'.

Why, I wonder, are we often so lonely, so empty, even if we have so much?
What is it in us that yearns for a world where beauty is not just something we can admire, but
enshrine and 'breathe' into a realm free of frustration and futility? What wish or dream would be hallowed if all the best and good aspects of life were emancipated from the tarnish of corruption and brevity?

The shock of our existence is when we look that deep, we sense amidst the dark and the still that there is an answer, as sharp and breathtakingly close as our own reflection.

What am I, asked the singer, that I am both so small and so profound?
The answer lies where this writer, probably with bated breath, goes on to point...
A morning where a communion of persons stood upon the new earth and decreed:

"Let us make them like us" - to reflect our image.

Creation is imbued with a need, a longing, that matches our own perplexity, the futility of being caught between what we were made to be and what we shall be - the solution to the cycle of futility and death, and the day will come when that reality breaks upon the world like a summer day after the bleakest of winters.

Dare we look there? Dare we allow such a reckoning of ourselves, as we yield to that longing, to see both the true image, and grant the 'tug' to the God who is there to take us home?

The voice that has followed us all our days is still calling, if we can but hear.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Behind the Eyes

"Scientific positivists, pencil and paper in hand, peer through shatterproof, UV-protected glasses at a world of animals, vegetables, and minerals. But genuine scientists—true seekers of knowledge—are not afraid to let the sunlight dazzle them, not afraid to seek and imagine what our myopic reason calls absurd.

Impossible, irrational, delusionary, absurd, untrustworthy, fictitious, imaginary: It is always easier to approach—or rather, ignore—mysteries of math by dismissing them as false or unintelligible. And how much more for mysteries of faith. So is God like an imaginary number, waiting to be discovered and accepted in a renaissance of faith? The simile is ridiculous, on its face. But, in a curious way, the ramblings of scientific history remind those who strive for reason just how vast reality is. The realization is at once unsettling and exhilarating: Truth is far richer than our minds—always confined by the here and now—can prove or even imagine".

Amanda Shaw - First Things Journal.

It's strange being short-sighted. These days, without the lenses that commonly sit on the end of my nose, the world quickly becomes hazy beyond a few feet and I begin to think I'm heading into an impressionist painting! It's so important, especially as a photographer, to have clarity about what's around me, and the same is true concerning what we term 'reality'.

I recall watching a programme some years back in which a whole series of visual illusions were employed to trick the eye - some were pretty amusing and a few were downright disturbing, but the presenter said something that's always stayed with me - within a fixed image or object, the reason that the eye and mind is confused is because you have several realities at once - ways of seeing and defining the information that are all equally valid.

Science has long informed us that the world we take for granted is far more sophisticated and complex than we usually consider, but unlocking that depth has often taken bold steps in using imagination to try and 'see' what is really there. Leading Physicists like Einstein and Bohm talked about the 'theatre of the mind' - using our gifts and resources creatively to engage with and unwrap the truth of our world. When we begin to take such steps, we begin to realize that the truths which science and theology are seeking to disclose concerning who and what we are are not as distant as is often conveyed in the more popularist version of 'what science has discovered'.

Sunday, 2 September 2007


"As American civilization had fallen away from traditional religion, we are looking for powerful moral figures who are above us, who will come to rescue us when we need them. When Jimmy and Lois are saying "Where are you, Superman? We need your help!", are they not praying in the most essential sense of the word...?" John Woo.

The recent international success of Tim Kring's TV series has touched a deep chord in the human persona. Amidst all the futility and disappointments of everyday life, people are clearly aspiring to something more - wanting to see someone come along who can really act for the common good.

Like most kids, I was surrounded by comics (primarily of the DC variety until I was about 12), and whilst I enjoyed the fantastical stories and characters, I was always drawn back to the 'dark knight' commonly known as Batman. There was just something about this character's conviction that there was a need for real justice amidst the evils of the world (deliciously developed, I thought, in Christopher Nolan's 'Batman Begins').
In my teens and into my twenties, the 'hero' figure in my life was to take the form of one Captain James T Kirk, who certainly confirmed much of my passion to engage with the adventure of life, but to do so with integrity and determination.

Role models like this are important because they affirm certain truths about our reality, and the fact that we know that there is a great need for the values and qualities such characters emulate to increase and 'savour' the world.

In the sermon on the mount, the 'beatitudes' speaks of people who are blessed because they are looking beyond the futility to sow and foreshadow something more that will one day become the essential qualities of humanity. Real hero's are not people who leap tall buildings, but engage with life with the vision and purpose Jesus describes.

There's a great deal to ponder from the tales of hero's.
As written large at the end of Star Trek III:

"The Human Adventure is Just Beginning".

Saturday, 1 September 2007

For Art's Sake?

"The truth is that 'culture' - the cultivation of creation - is natural;
it is native to the nature of Adam & Eve in the garden...
The fact is that God's grace can enter into the very juices of our artistic performance".

Calvin Seerveld - Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves.

Seeking to be involved in the arts can be a pretty sobering, 'reigning in' experience. This week, for example, I visited a joint exhibition by two local artists I know and found myself astonished at the creativity and synchronicity expressed in the works of mixed mediums. I then viewed a selection of 'holiday snaps' by one of the artists recently taken in France, and was just stunned at the acute and fascinating observations she had made of very common objects, capturing them so well and making you realize just how much you miss in the very fabric of the world which surrounds us. It is so clearly all about focus - about teaching ourselves to 'see' deeper and clearer, and using that perception to inspire how we employ our bodies and skills to convey that elegance.

If I'm honest, I'd say that my own failing is that I become too entwined in beauty and thereby depreciate the techniques required to capture things well, but that seems a small price to pay when we can engage in this 'dance' with creation, and hopefully, the one behind this work.

One of my favourite sculptures stands at the front of broadcasting house in London. Created by Eric Gill, it is commonly referred to as a depiction of Shakespeare's Prospero and Ariel from the Tempest, but there is no doubt more going on here. The sculpture depicts two figures - an elderly but kind 'father' stands behind a naked male child, who clearly has 'marks' in his hands and feet.
Both of them are standing on a globe and hidden away from our eyes, behind the back of the elder man, is a depiction of a beautiful woman.
The whole scene for me is a sublime depiction of John 3:16 - it provides a visual reference that encapsulates the 'glory' of what Christ was seeking to convey in that familiar statement, and it makes me really stop every time I see it, reminding me of something profound.

Good art always gives us a moment of pause ('selah', as it says in the Psalms). It's enriching because it allows us to see that all of life is connected to a richer, deeper reality.

It's great to be involved in this world, and even if we never quite reach the place of creating something that may cause others that moment of pause, I know that my own activity here has often conveyed that 'deeper truth' to at least one person - me!