Sustaining Images (1)
Night- Shadowed shapes and pathways
The temple in the landscape
The temple interior/A space for exploration - art and a structured context
The fragmented image - the fractal scene- frame and content
Layers of depth
Complexity of form
Complexity of texture - fringes - borders - blurrings
Containing the uncontainable - icon, book, casket.
The cell - the gate to its garden - the stations of the cross in the garden - a tree in the garden - sunflowers in the garden - the cell’s window from the outside - the cell’s doorway - the cell’s window from inside - memorial - candle and statue - cup and platter - sword blade - collage of Julian.
The light before the wall - the recording angel - the dove in storm - till all stretch out their hands to thee
Icons - images - saints - doorways - facing toward the light
The image, the face and the mask
The way ahead (plain)
The way ahead (pointer stones)
The way ahead (tracks in the mud)
Clouds and storm
Turbulent skies (love, life, death and hope)
Extremes (heat and cold)
Destruction and ruin
Gutted space, cleared space, empty space, framed space, still space/creative space
The door through the wall
Underground space, basement space, space at depth
The Passion Road/the passage through hell
Crying out/Cassandra/prophet/Wild one
The prisoner in the dark
The prisoner trapped, ensnared, drowning
The prisoner exposed
In torment till the end of time
Hands out of hell/hands reaching up/hands reaching down
Receiving grace/choosing to go on/becoming a messenger of grace
Stillness/Rooted in silence
A person becoming
Emmaus - feeding beside the way - bread for the journey
It was this third aspect that I was working on at “close of play” yesterday. I need to sort out my imagery for this journey. The imagery of Passover is complex - the “Passover” itself - the Israelites gathered in their families, eating the meal in haste, preparing to leave the land of slavery, with the angel of death winging its way overhead and the blood of the lamb on their doors as the protective sign. But the Passover festival is also the first day of Unleavened Bread, I think - I will have to check that - and that is a harvest festival, although the removal of the leaven is also an act of cleansing and renewal, a fresh start, the beginning of another year. If not the new year, then something like it. An act of cleaning out the old and allowing a space so that the new can be born. Rather like the act of damping down the old fire and kindling a new one. There is the element of risk here, too. What if the new does not work as well as the old?
Anyway, that is the first set of imagery. Then there is the flight to the Red Sea. Or rather, I am forgetting the story, because the first phase of the Moses story is the prolonged argument with Pharaoh that secures the Israelites’ freedom, and the ten plagues which are visited upon the Egyptians as judgement and as a way of persuading them to let the people go. We cannot evade the possibility of judgement in the story, although I would like to downplay that if the evidence allows me to do so. That is to say, I am not wanting to portray God as vengeful and quick to judgement or keen on wrath or even wrathful at all.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of evidence that salvation is accompanied by signs in the heavens and great and dangerous events on earth. These events are not only visited against the enemies of Israel: they are a danger to Israel too. The Hebrews were in danger from the angel of death, and their only protection was that they were warned how to protect themselves. They were in danger at later points in the story, too, though most of the time that was due to their own resistance.
I am getting ahead of myself. Plagues. Passover. Then the flight to the Red Sea, the moment of absolute terror as the Egyptians close in, and the promise that God will fight for them. Then the passing through the narrow place of the Red Sea itself, and the emergence on the other side, and the destroying wave which overwhelms their enemies. Then the long slow walk through the wilderness, from oasis to oasis. The time at Sinai, with the giving of the law and the terrible lapse and its repercussions, the main one being that the time in the desert was prolonged. The discipline that was necessary for the people, and the way they created a portable shrine to take with them, and made it beautiful, and used it as the source of strength in difficult places.
All this feeds into the shape of the journey that Jesus and his disciples were making. The struggle for release, the terrible danger of the Passover, the passage through the narrow place into the broad place beyond, and the long walk through the wilderness until the promise of the “broad place” is reached in its fullness. All these are elements that reflect aspects of Mark’s story, though not necessarily in sequence. Or if there is a sequence, it overlaps itself several times.
Because the struggle is there during the ministry of Jesus, but that is also the journey through the wilderness, where, like the Israelites, the disciples and followers of Jesus often let him down with their complaints, their doubts and their lack of faith. Culminating in Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, which are far more terrible, in their way, than the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees. But the struggle and complaining and the conflict are also part of the experience of the early Church, and the warning in the story is the warning that if they cease their vigilance, they too can fail like Judas and Peter.
How did Judas fail Jesus? By leaving him, by handing him over for money - in other words, preferring money to Jesus. By giving his allegiance to the old Jewish authorities rather than to Jesus. In that sense, by reneging on the new deal, the new covenant. By preferring the old covenant to the new. If Judas was simply mercenary or venal - if he could be easily bought - then it is hard to see how he would have stayed with Jesus so long - almost to the bitter end. So let us suppose that he was genuine and sincere. But in the end, his loyalties lay elsewhere. Judas symbolises the utter commitment required to follow Jesus all the way. Peter symbolises the courage that is required too. The courage to live out that commitment and to express it in every word and deed.
The struggle, the narrow place - for Jesus, this narrow place is death. For the early Church, it was the process which was leading them through the narrows of the apocalypse into the broad place of the kingdom of heaven beyond. How did they envisage the “narrows”? We have the answer in Mark 13, though there are clues elsewhere in the Gospel, too. How did they envisage the kingdom? As abundance. As a feast to which everyone is invited. Though it took them some time to get there. Jesus got to that understanding ahead of them, and they did not always manage to follow him. But the story of the Tyro-Phoenician woman suggests that “all-ness” is there, potentially at least. And “all-ness” is, or ought to be, a defining characteristic of Methodism.
The flight to the Red Sea is rather like the Gethsemane experience, and the Last Supper or Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples shares something of the nature of that experience. It is a moment of choice for the disciples and for Jesus, just as the time in the Garden is choice. But the other meal which proceeds it is also a part of the flight-Red Sea-Gethsemane experience too. It too, has a sense of the calm before the storm, the gathering moment, the moment in which we prepare to meet what is coming. And Jesus makes a clear link between the woman’s action in anointing him and his death. The link is not mourning - or at least, it is not only mourning - it is also the abundance of the ointment. Abundance as a symbol of life, the vast resources of the life-giving God. Preparing him, not in the sense that she is treating him like a corpse, but in the sense that she is reminding him, as the Tyro-Phoenician woman reminded him, of the abundance of life that God gives. It is the memory of that abundance, and his conviction of its reality, which will sustain him on the Cross.
The sustaining hope of life, even in the shadow of death. The sustaining memory of good things, carried with us into the time of desolation and deprivation. The story of the alternative that is possible: that we hold onto, not to deny reality or escape reality (Julie Hulme please note), but to enable us to bear reality. A celebration of that reality, not because we have it or expect to have it, but because we assert its truth, even when everything and everyone around us denies it. Because by asserting its truth, we remember that it is possible, we remember to look for signs of how it might be possible where we are, and we retain the strength to work on those signs and foster them, and one day, make the possibility real.
We keep hope alive, not as wishful thinking, but as a strengthening power. A source of strength which empowers us. A resource which makes a practical difference to how we see, think, act. We keep hope alive: hope that is made real through faith. Faith-full action.
particular image or symbol that describes our spiritual journey
Describes our experience in a holistic way - how it feels, as well as how it looks
Therefore structures and feeds our reflection
Unlike a maze, which is designed to confuse, a labyrinth has no diversions.
There may be many changes of direction, but there is only a single path which will lead you, eventually to the centre, without requiring you to retrace your steps (until you turn around and wish to come out again!
Is our view of the world a maze, or a labyrinth?
Silence and stillness call to us, but our ability to tolerate them without moving is not equally matched (my emphasis) (Source this quote via Rachel Burgess)
The challenge can be not only to make a start - enter in
Or to keep going all the way in
But to allow ourselves to remain at the centre - to not only arrive at the centre but also to stay there
Some labyrinths have very large and hospitable centres in order to emphasise the welcome we receive there
We can feel that at the centre we are on “holy ground” and that might be an appropriate awe
Or it might be a reluctance to engage with intimacy
The labyrinth helps us articulate the questions: I don’t know what to do; I don’t know how to do this; I don’t know whether I can do this; will I complete this? I have started so many times in the past - will I finish this time?
It can also articulate the answer: I have faith in you, God says. I have faith in you to do this, and you have the skills to complete this. You can not only begin but also complete the task. My grace is sufficient for you.
Clarifying questions: what kind of journey am I on today? How do I feel about it? What is my purpose in travelling today?
Different names/words for journey
Different purposes in travelling
Journey/Labyrinth: cut out “footstep” shapes: types of journey, purposes in travelling; people we follow in the footsteps of