Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Glory of it All

"What God esteems beautiful is that which presents in its perfection all the fitness of art, and that which tends to the usefulness of its end.
He, then, who proposed to Himself a manifest design in His works, approved each one of them, as fulfilling its end in accordance with His creative purpose".

Basil - The Hexameron.

"Life", said Marvin (in Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy) - "don't talk to me about it".

It certainly can be a struggle at the best of times. Whatever we do, or try to do, we live
in the knowledge that everything is surely running in a particular direction - and if we think about it, it's very disquieting. You could actually define the future as when everything now living will be dead, and what natural order remains, due to entropy, will be truly and entirely diminished.
No wonder Marvin felt so constantly depressed regarding the general futility of it all -
global warming and climate change are peanuts before such forces.

It all seems a very, very long way from the 'very good' final day of that original creation week,
when everything was marked by a very different state of play - a creation that could have known an existence marked by the absence of the death and corruption that now so scars our times.

It's almost impossible for us, beyond teasing 'glints' through imagination, to conceive of such a world - where death and decay as the dominant forces of existence would simply have been unknown - but we most certainly long for such a splendor. Our deepest joys and aspirations resonate with the possibility of once more tasting and knowing such a reality - a harking after a moment encountered by our race, so long ago in the garden.

It would be easy for us to just seek to ignore that call - to just live within the tunnel of the here and now, but most of us know that simply just won't do - to become so narrow in our aims leaves us like Marvin, totally depressed. We know there is more, even here, amongst the wastelands of a realm gone bad. The rain may make most days gray and miserable (we can tell you all about that here in England!), but when the dawn breaks upon a fresh, bright day, we are reminded that there's something more.

There's a verse in one of Paul's letters to the Corinthians that is truly amazing.
Referring back to the original moments of the creation work itself, the Apostle states:
"God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Right back at the start, Genesis says, the earth was created 'without form, and void'.
Right now, we have a universe scorched by chaos, corruption and decay.
It would be the easiest thing to look at such desolation and conclude it was valueless - naturally, there's nothing to be done with it, but the same miracle, notes the scriptures, that brought light and thereby order into the original wasteland is now at work once more in this fallen order, and so there's a way which will allow us to look and to take the first step once more beyond the corruption.

The futility of this present life can often leave us so wanting, needing, a release from the bondage that the consequences of our fall has placed upon us, but even the fragile moments of beauty we occasionally encounter now profoundly affirm that 'the old field' of time, space, matter and the natural senses can be 'weeded, dug and sown for a new crop.... We may be tired of this old field, but God is not' (C S Lewis: The New Creation).

Beneath the 'natural' state of play - the cycle of mortality - there is another power at work in our benighted realm. The goal is renewal and redemption of all that was intended and purposed for good, and the guarantee of that end is the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As I face yet another 'summer' week of bleak skies, heavy with yet more rain (Marvin would approve), I reflect on the fact that the dawn is approaching where that marvelous light, which clothed creation before the sun and moon, will once more adorn this realm - the light which rises in us when we understand that through Christ, God breaks the slavery of our bondage to this present terrible decay.

Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension marks the fact that this present realm is not the conclusion of existence - we were not simply made to be bent low beneath the tyranny of the temporal, but to live, boldly and brightly, as whole creatures within a glorious creation, infused with the marvel and the splendor of its creator and sustainer. That is what is on the way.

Till the day truly dawns, we have a hope that keeps us from being very depressed -
something to ponder amidst the gray.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Piercing the depths...

"In this - the initial work of Creation - as elsewhere, we see the familiar pattern -
descent by God to the formless earth and re-ascent from the formless to the finished.
In this sense, a certain degree of 'development' is inherent within the Christian faith".

C S Lewis - The Grand Miracle

"Christ took the bread from Creation and said of it, "This is My Body".
In like manner, he took of the wine, made by the earth and said, "This is my Blood".

Gustaf Wingren - Man and the Incarnation

The deepest riches of our lives here are not determined by our 'possessing' a particular amount of things (because, in reality, we only borrow such things for a time, and that even includes the very time and frame we currently inhabit) -
but those precious moments when we so powerfully and honestly taste through giving of the true marvel and affection of another.

During my years as a married man before losing my wife to cancer, I came to understand how extraordinary it was to truly share yourself with another person - to truly love. The bonds which grows through such a fusion truly infuse life with a beauty and a wealth which, even in the case of loss, continue to motivate and drive a person. This has certainly been the case for me, not only in my continuing after losing Kay, but in both my creative work as a photographer and in my forging new relationships with new friends.

Marriage, genuine relationships, and, hopefully, our communion with each other in the faith, allows us to form ties with each other that carry the potential for something astonishing - our continuing to be 'clay jars', but earthen things which actually house a 'taste' of something truly profound - the weight of the gift of God's love, shed abroad within us.

The Creation account in Genesis tells us something stunning in this regard.
The Almighty God does not merely conceptualize and then just 'speak' the realms into existence in an instant. Those opening verses speak of the initial work becoming an act -
the Spirit brooding over the formless and the crude,
the Word, present from the beginning, being the very means to bring order to that initial mass.

Here we see how the very act of God in this work is one of Sovereign yet intimate care, of a giving to bring about a 'glory' that, through ages we have yet to comprehend, will truly express and honor the character of the love shared within the community of the Trinity.

The deep works of God are often a mystery -
Creation, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection.
They all resonate with the truth we witness even in nature, that the yielding to something greater than ourselves, even to death, brings the miracle of something more significant.

There are moments, when working with a camera, where I can glimpse the intended significance of another human being, made to carry the image of their Creator. It is both overwhelmingly attractive and shockingly alarming at the same time, for those moments so poignantly connect to the reflections of the Psalmist - 'what is man, that you are mindful of him?'

The book of Hebrews tells us that we have yet to see the fulfillment of work of God that will herald the day when humanity become the creature that the psalmist snap-shots: truly 'crowned' with its true significance, but Hebrews confirms our expectations by telling us that we now see Jesus - the one humbled to death for our redemption, now risen and glorified - the first, and equally the finisher of that deepest of works within all that He has made.

The world is twisted in the futility and the frustration of being still so distant from its true estate, but within the deep things of God, worked within the very midst of creation from the very moment of the initial beginning, we can find aid and comfort, direction and assurance, in this, our time of need, for the aim of 'all things' is to allow us to see Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, who has come to make, by means of redemption, creation all that it was intended to be -
a realm suffused with the affection and character of its maker and savior.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Beyond immediate pretense...

"The hunger, and the longing, everyone of us knows inside,
Could be the bridge between us".
Amy Grant - Turn this world around.

As a photographer, the tools of my trade are often those elements which might be deemed 'beautiful' - light and shade, texture and tone, form and posture, but just having certain elements around you does not equate to actually making a good image - they certainly help, but you have to break some eggs to make a good omelet!

I recall listening to the photographer Jock Sturges recently, and how he was commissioned to work with a very famous model on a fashion shoot, which he dutifully covered, but there was no 'connection' between himself and the person in the images, and because of that, he would never use the work himself and viewed the event as meaningless.

We often work at a pretty superficial level in secular society. The goal much of the time is to fulfill immediate wants and needs without delving deeper into why or what such attitudes (living for now) really say about us - what are we actually running away from, and why this addiction to the immediate instead of deeper pursuits?

There is clearly a difference in our relationship to others and to life in general when we  do not only interact with them in a merely transitory fashion, but begin to appreciate, to value them, for who or what they really are - that the beauty of a personality, of the world around us, is an astonishing, intricate and complex reality, that can consume our own selves in the wonder of a more richer and satisfying contemplation, making us truly wealthier people.

The art of photography has really brought home to me the fact that the person before me is not just an object - a 'body' to photograph and then ignore. The joy of this craft is to discover the treasure of the person which embodies the physical 'frame', and to seek to bring out the far weightier beauty of who they are in what is captured in the images.
It is what is within that animates and 'clothes' the outward grace of our bodies, and if there is no one at home, then you will only capture dull photos, no matter how long you photo shop them!

In the early chapters of Genesis, there is a clear illustration of the difference between the genuinely enriching and the grotesquely, inherently contrived.

When Adam looks upon Eve for the first time, he comprehends a person who is totally unique and yet entirely compatible with his own existence. The response is one of immediate worship, for he recognizes the profound richness and significance of this woman, and the desire within him is to truly know her, in a profoundly deep and rich fashion.
Contrast this to the image not much further along, where these two same people are seeking to run from such a reality, to hide and cover themselves from each other, to act in an entirely pretentious and superficial fashion in response to the nature of their crime - the demeaning of all which God had so graciously given them.

We do a great violence to ourselves, to our existence, when we exist at the level of the trite and the supposedly irrelevant. It stains our broken souls with a stupor to dull our deeper needs - a malady that will drown a much deeper need if unchecked.

There have been countless times in the last few years when I have seen people sit in front of a camera and gain a fresh awareness or confidence regarding some aspect of themselves.
Sadly, there have also been occasions when the person has been 'dead' - they have no desire, no hunger to do anything beyond what is immediate.

Jesus Christ holds a similar mirror before us. He wants us to see the pain of our crippled lives, to really understand our condition, but to also see the wonder of our lives when they are set free by God's care, mercy and grace, to escape the superficial and really to become human.

The 'joy ride' of the noisy rush to ignore our reality can only last so long.
Like the best image, it will fade into dust,
but life can be about a richness, a reality, that will last forever.

Earnestly desire, says Jesus, those things,
and life will certainly take on a value beyond the immediate.