Tuesday 22 November 2022

Bronze Age near by


The moulds are for creating axe heads in the Lincolnshire Wolds about 3000 years ago, and are among a small collection being displayed almost next door to me at The Collection alongside this tiny exquisite bronze pendant of about the same age (which the British Museum is allowing to tour four galleries in the country - it was in Cornwall and will eventually be in Orkney).  It seems extraordinary to have such things brought to my new doorstep.

Wednesday 16 November 2022

I sense a space I am at home in


The priest-poet David Scott has been a background voice through all my ministry.  His first collection was published in the year I was first ordained, and I learn that he died last month three weeks after I retired.  More importantly, I recognised so much his poetry revealed, from his early boarding school experience to his enigmatic pastoral encounters.

I’ve been re-reading much of his work over the last few days, including his poems in memory of a teacher we just happened to have shared to a friend whose life had changed his perspective:

...  The outer life is burnt or buried on a particular date,

but faith flies away from there, to become something suddenly other.. 

...  Now I tell the secret that resurrection is the glass through which we see differently, and what was first in the mind of God becomes the truth at last.

But, rather than this predictable choice from among the many places where he references looking beyond death, it is the title poem from his final collection Beyond the drift which echoes for me most tonight. 

He had contrasted his brother’s smudged left-handed writing with the clarity of his own right-handed ability to pull his pen ahead of the letters, until ‘becoming left-handed in my soul’ every poetic venture is owned as ‘unclear, slow, unsure of what it is to know’, concluding:

...  Beyond the drift of language I sense a space I am at home in; which is the mystery of the heart, wordless, patient, and wrong.  Being right seems insufficient now. 

And a poignancy in all this, of which I wouldn’t have been aware other than through his publisher’s announcement of his death, that he had been cared for with Alzheimer’s in the last few years.

Two Lincoln Cathedral pictures tonight as well.  Unexpectedly finding a Spitfire parked when coming in for Evensong last night, and remembering being installed as a Canon twenty years ago today.

Friday 11 November 2022

Those who have taken their own lives


Treading gently in York yesterday in visiting (in the Minster) the first display of the Yorkshire Speak Their Name Suicide Memorial Quilt, before stepping across to the neighbouring St Michael-le-Belfry Church in which my late wife’s first wedding took place (a marriage ended by her first husband’s suicide), not quite knowing how to navigate the emotions involved, carrying with me the friendship of one of the Quilt’s principal instigators (whose daughter’s funeral I took after her suicide and who is commemorated on the Quilt) and the love for my adult step-children (with whom I’ve not had the sorts of conversations being replayed on a screen in the Minster’s Chapter House), and noticing on the way that the word ‘suicide’ (which I had been taught to avoid in favour of the phrase ‘took their own lives’) has been reclaimed.  The Quilt comes down today but moves to Ripon Cathedral after Christmas (28 December to 30 January) and will reach Haworth Parish Church for a few days in August.  And prominent on the Minster’s West Front is a fresh statue of the late Queen, which has been visited by the new King the previous day, in advance of which my friend had warned me off trying to visit then.

Saturday 5 November 2022

Susan Wilson self portrait



The 'colour and emotion' in this 1996 self portait by Susan Wilson in the Usher Gallery is what attracted the attention of a men's support group, so it was highlighted on the Gallery's Twitter page, and so I've been brought to stand before it several times in my first few weeks living nearby.

I've tried holding my hands in the same position as she is in the portrait, which has emphasised and made unavoidable a puzzling and agonising by the artist intent on her image in a mirror in front of her.

Her website was easy to find, and the sole item in the 'About' section is an interview with art critic Michael Peppiatt from 2008, which mentions her care with what people wear in her portraits as well as her habit of using a large mirror for her self portraits.

Peppiatt comments on another work of hers 'bursting with some sort of unspoken longing... as if they had bottled up some sort of secret identity thats become almost painful' and that is what I see in this work as well.

Wilson observes that 'teaching people to draw from observation, it becomes apparent that they are drawing from a memory store of objects or places or how things look' and Peppiatt comments 'so we never get the direct confrontation - we are influenced hugely by what we've seen in the past', and Wilson's feels here like someone intent on getting past that.

Perhaps my interest in the picture arises in part from an increasing awareness of how our seeing, perceiveing, remembering, arguing and writing are each also much more dependant on our brain reproducing what we expect to encounter, all necessarily inhabiting a managable limited distorted reality.

In the New Testament, the word 'mirror' (es-optron - the root of our word 'optician' is here) occurs twice.  In the interview, Wilson cites Paul's 'we see as through a glass darkly'; the translation 'glass' in 1 Corinthians 13.12 is esoptrou, the 'darkly' is ainigmati, a puzzle, a riddle (the root of our word 'enigma' is here).  

Almost more haunting is James 1.23, 24's awareness that we can observe ourselves (our 'birth face') in a mirror and then quickly forget what we look like (perhaps because, although James does not say this, we have a preferred memory store).  

Wilson's face, hands and stance here feel like a longing to be free from these limitations - what the two texts long for as to be fully known and to act out what we profess and intend.

And then, standing in front of the picture again yesterday, it felt like God puzzling away at me, agonising over my limitations of insight and action.  Her robe is encrusted with the paint of her creativity, and I am her workmanship (Ephesians 2.10 this time, sometimes given as her 'handiwork' even her 'work of art').