Different choices of possible frames for a piece of art bring out different aspects of it. I was reminded of this by one example this week: ‘the silver one brings out the central motif clearly while also making the piece seem colder, while the red one brings out small elements which are there in the background and by doing so makes the piece warmer’.
And I just wondered whether that might actually be a (partial) image of preaching? One is putting a frame around something (a passage of scripture, an experience of faith or of life) to ‘bring out’ something from it.
There will be the obvious dangers. Choosing a loud, large and inappropriate frame which draws attention to itself rather than the art. An habitual choice of a favourite frame which (perhaps unconsciously) will only ever bring out a strictly limited selection of colours or features. Or simply an unawareness of the effect ‘framing’ is having on what is being noticed.
All of which also reminded me of a different image offered over the last few years. The image is having responsibility for ‘curating worship’ – the responsibility for developing and leading liturgy is like the responsibility of the curator of an art exhibition. The image is all the more compelling because all licensed clergy are ‘curates’.
Perhaps that is also a(nother partial) image of preaching? Choices are made about the things (scripture, experiences, reflections on them) which are included or excluded. And, crucially, choices are made about what one chooses to exhibit side-by-side, how one labels anything, and about the order in which one leads people past things.
So, working with our 'Worship on the road to Emmaus' groups, I noticed that 'framing' our Communion liturgy with, or 'exhibiting it' alongside, Luke 24 (the Emmaus story) ‘brings out’ the way each such service situates us on the evening of Easter Day with what feels like the hardly credible first resurrection news and experiences freshly invigorating us.
And then, this week, 'framing' exactly the same service with, or 'exhibiting it' alongside, Jeremiah 32 (the prophet investing in land in a war zone – a story which comes up once every three years in our Sunday reading cycle but with which our groups were unfamiliar) ‘brings out’ the way each Communion service is situated in desertion and in hope apparently being crushed by naked political power (it is literally ‘in the night in which he was betrayed’ after all, the covenant of hope is in this context).
Other 'frames' for the Communion service, other things which might be 'exhibited' alongside it, are a meal, the Passover, or a (wedding) banquet. Each would ‘bring out’ something we might otherwise not spot or value or be challenged by.
And what about the way each Christian denomination is a frame which makes us notice and overlook quite different aspects of the whole Christian story and tradition? Or what is 'brought out' of both our rapidly changed culture and our faith stories when they are exhibited next to one another?
The picture is Bridgehouse Beck at the bottom of our road. It will flow into the Worth close by and on into the Aire in the next town, which will flow into Calder on the other side of our district and then into the Ouse on the other side of our county, emerging into the Humber estuary to flow through the edge of the parish I left behind in Grimsby nearly six months ago.