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CAN ART HELP US PRAY? Connecting the Spiritual and the Visual.

Iain McKillop
An expansion of a study session given to the Guildford Diocese 20/1/2014 . (N.B. CAPITAL LETTERS in the text denote the subject of the power-point slide being shown) The theme of this series of talks is Connecting the Spiritual with the Visual. In the first session Laura showed us contemporary examples of the modern Church following the tradition of commissioning religious art. Paul explained how the concepts with which he is working create parallels with the spiritual life and how he hopes to inspire faith or encourage people to think about issues of faith and society. Hes very much a Conceptual artist working as an evangelist In this evenings sessions I want to come from a slightly different perspective and explore the issue of whether art might be able to teach us to pray, and if so, how? My particular interest is in how art might be used to develop our personal and communal spirituality. Its something I have been exploring in my painting and thinking for about 20 years, but more particularly, I am at present undertaking a detailed study of theories about art and prayer in different Christian traditions, from the early Church debates about whether art should be allowed in churches, up to today. PEOPLE WALKING AROUND NATIONAL GALLERY Some people talk about the spirituality of art in almost hallowed terms, as though to be conscious of the poetic emotions stirred up by art or to be aware of beauty in art is a spiritual activity in itself. Walk around the National Gallery or many galleries and youll see many people with spiritual smiles on their faces, as though they are transported by what they are experiencing culturally, intellectually or emotionally. Sometimes they may be bemused but smile and convince others that they are understanding and responding to art on a higher plain. Quite a number of contemporaries, even some Christians involved in the arts, talk about art as a spiritual activity. But I dont personally think that emotional feelings, cultural associations or even the intellectual meaning of works are what the spirituality of art is about. CONCERNING THE SPIRITUALITY IN ART. Uber das Geistige in der Kunst 1912 Kandinsky wrote a rather dangerously titled book Concerning the Spirituality of Art in 1912, and in a way its popularity started a difficulty. He emphasised the different ways in which the abstract responses we have to works of art effect our inner selves. He wasnt the first to understand this; the Nabis and Symbolists had explored similar ideas at the turn of the century, others before them. RED YELLOW AND BLUE Kandinsky, Centre Pompidou, Paris 1925 Colour, line, composition, symbol, content can all have emotional or significant effects on us. The colour we paint our room can be calming; violent colours or forms may be disquieting. But many of the responses which Kandinsky called spiritual are to do with art effecting the emotions, the mind, conscious and unconscious thoughts, feelings and intuitive responses. They are inner responses, not in Christian terms necessarily true religious responses. To be fair, in its German original title Geistige / Spiritual can also contain the connotation of mental, intellectual and moral spirit as well as a divine spirit. But it is the religious/spiritual connotations that have been over-emphasised by interpreters who followed him. Kandinsky was highly influenced by the religious background, superstitions and legends of his Russian upbringing. He added new psychological understanding to these, and ideas which he encountered in the spiritualism movements which flourished at the beginning of the 20th C. He was particularly influenced by the teachings of his fellow Russian, the occultist Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) who founded the Theosophical Society and the Austrian Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), also a Theosophist. True Christian spirituality is more specific in its focus; it is about our relationship with God through Christ, rather than our relationship with our feelings and emotions or abstract numinous sensations. WHAT IS CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY? People in all walks of life use the term spirituality very loosely these days. Im not a Christian but Im very spiritual usually means Im a very sensitive person, I respond to the poetic, I love beauty and I like the feeling I get when I go into a religious space rather than I have been brought close to God by Gods 1

Spirit alive within me as a result of Christs work. In this climate, think that Christians need to be more careful and precise about how we use the terms spirit and spirituality. Christian Spirituality is properly to do with the part of us which directly or indirectly relates to the world of God - the realm beyond the visible, which is in most ways intangible, and the way that the Spirit of God interweaves in our physical world to permeate all of creation. The spirit in human beings is that apect of us which is brought alive by Gods Spirit and relates to God, particularly through the infilling, which Christs cleansing of us has enabled. The term used in Christian tradition for the mind, the feelings, emotional responses and inner sensations is more properly called the Soul. So when I feel a sensation of colour, excitement of form, an emotional feeling of warmth from a work, have empathy, an emotional response to a work, or cognitive or intuitive understanding, each of these would be called in Christian tradition a response in the soul, not the Spirit. Art, I think, should be properly called more a soulish activity than a spiritual activity. Art awakens thoughts, feelings and meanings in our soul. The artist is working with their soul when they think about and create their work. But having said that human beings are whole people. We cant separate ourselves or say that response is the Body part of me, thats the Soul part of me, thats the Spiritual side of me. What I feel or see affects my mind, my soul. My soul may make my body feel enervated, in turn making me in my spirit respond to God. God more often speaks to us through intuitions, feelings, reading Scripture or mental thoughts than directly speaking into our spirit. So art can be used to communicate things which the Spirit brings to life to transform us. We should just be careful not to make too direct spiritual claims for art. Art is an activity of the human soul, with no necessarily spiritual qualities in itself. It may be influenced by our spirituality and influence human spiritual responses. But we shouldnt justify filling our churches with art based on the argument that art is a spiritual activity. It is partly spiritual, by being a human activity, (ie. the work of a being who is part spirit). But art is no more or less specifically spiritual than writing or reading a novel, creating a garden, doing a manual or administrative job well, etc. However art has often been used by artists for spiritual expression. And art has been used as a catalyst for spiritual contemplation in churches and by individual believers for centuries, since councils of the early Church concluded that visual imagery was not what scriptures prohibition against graven images was actually condemning. HELEN OPPENHEIM QUOTE Prayer involves our relationship with an invisible God, and our recognising our identity as linked to an invisible spiritual world. Yet God made us to be able to find him and relate to him despite his invisibility. The Theologian Helen Oppenheim writes about the findability of God in this world. (We are not trying to pronounce about what God can or cannot be, but about how God can be found in our world Gods people have the hopeful responsibility of being the presence, the findability of God upon earthOur diversity should enable God to be found in all areas of life in the world The word multi-faceted comes to mind the church may be a prism breaking up the white light of Gods dazzling majesty. Theology 93: 1990 p 133-141). God intended us to encounter him in life. God created diversity in human beings. We are all designed to respond to God and find him in a variety of ways. Different individuals & traditions have different attitudes and approaches to spirituality. Not all of us learn visually, some respond better to words, logical argument or concepts, others respond intuitively. So art wont necessarily speak spiritually to everyone. But it can be a way that helps some. Our diversity allows more of God to be understood by human life than if we all felt and reacted in the same way. Christian artists can contribute to this by adding their insights and creating new ways of reflecting upon truth, which help to broaden our spectrum of understanding. True prayer develops our relationship with the invisible power who is able to transform us.. GREGORY OF NYSSA (c335 c395) Icon c1314 Studenica Monastery, Yugoslavia God and the spiritual realm are unseeable and intangible. Some find it easier to pray and to have a relationship with an invisible God than others. Gregory of Nyssa has become one of my spiritual heroes; his writings on prayer are rich with meaning. He believed that we should not even use concepts of God when we pray before him; (not even he, Father or Trinity), because they confine our perception of the infinite, invisible God to something tangible. This potentially reduces the focus of our worship and our sense of dependence on God in the full magnitude in which he surrounds and indwells us. Gregory believed that the best we should do is sit and pray in silence, contemplating in the presence of the infinite unknown, because that is the closest to understanding God and recognising his presence with us, that we can attain. 2

THOMAS MERTON QUOTE Thomas Merton believed that we should live as if we are seeing him(God) face to face, but he warns that in doing so, we should not imagine anything or conceive an image of God: On the contrary, it is a matter of adoring him as invisible and infinitely beyond our comprehension, and realizing him as al l. (Thomas Merton, Hidden Ground of Love 63-64). JOHN CHRYSOSTOM QUOTE John Chrysostom (347-407) wrote similarly: Let us evoke him as the inexpressible God, incomprehensible, invisible and unknowable. Let us affirm that he surpasses all power of human speech, that he eludes the grasp of every mortal intelligence, that the angels cannot penetrate him, that the cherubim cannot fully understand him. For he is invisible to the principalities and powers , the virtues and all creatures, without exception. Only the Son and the Holy Spirit know him. The 6th Century writer Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite first used the term apophatic /negative for this way of approaching theology. All positive images and concepts of God are rejected because human ideas and images are limited, unable to convey the full reality of God. The soul in contemplation enters into the darkness of unknowing. GOOD SHEPHERD IAIN MCKILLOP Others find this difficult and find it helpful to concentrate on as aspect of God or a mental image that describes Gods activity towards human beings. After all, that is how Christ taught. He gave people imagery by which they could hold on to understandings and ideas about God: - Light, Justice, Love, The Parable of the Father of the Prodigal Son, the Good Shepherd, The Cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension etc. Thats part of the Kataphatic way of prayer the positive way, concentrating on something we know or which has been revealed in scripture. It is partly in contributing to this area that we might normally recognise the potential of Christian art. Art creates metaphors, not direct images of what God is like, but expressions and imagery which reflect and teach truths about God to us. Meditating upon these can open up our comprehension. My painting of a strong Good Shepherd, who lays his life on the line to rescue a mangy, undeserving, struggling sheep is my way of exploring one such metaphor. The storm clouds, rocky ravine, hovering eagle might suggest different threats to life or challenges on the path of life. The attitude of the sheep might reflect aspects of ourselves. The figure of the shepherd, strong, yet making himself vulnerable, risking life and limb for the sheep, valuing the sheep suggests the pose of Christ on the Cross. Who knows whether the sheep deserves rescuing or whether it wont get itself into a similar scrape again. In my first version of this picture the sheep seems to pray of rescue, submissively allowing the shepherd to raise it. My second version has a much more struggling sheep, which seems close to the experience of the spiritual life of many people as well as myself. We are all different. The imagery that helps or speaks to one individual at one time is often very different from what speaks to another. Some of us are noisy in our expression of our spirituality, some respond to calm, some like ideal beauty, some like expressive realism (the technique I use in my painting), some find words or music more meaningful than images, some find words too abstract and like to concentrate on an image. What is important is that any imagery we use, including the way we imagine God when we pray or when we explain the Christian faith to others is true. Remember Christs words to the Samaritan Woman at the well, those who worship God should worship him in spirit and in truth (Jn.4:23) Thats one of the problems with using visual art to explore faith. It is based on the human imagination, not on what we see, because God cannot be seen. Any image we have in our mind will always be in a way a misrepresentation of God or of true spirituality. A religious image must always be recognised as a metaphor and only a fragment of a much bigger and deeper truth. Many of the early Christian teachers on prayer were wary, of human imagination, recognising that has often led people astray. One of my favourite writers on prayer, the early 16th C. Spanish mystic Francisco de Osuna (c1492-1540) greatly distrusted the Christian imagination. By contrast Ignatius of Loyola trusted Gods Spirit to lead the Christian imagination through his Spiritual Exercises. Calvin rejected religious images, not just because he was reacting against the danger of idolatry but because, he said: the finite cannot contain the infinite. Yet much of Christs teaching was based on giving people imagery like the Parables, by which their imagination could grasp aspects of God. Perhaps rather than metaphor we might call a Christian work of art a parable about spiritual truth. Some Christians for centuries have found certain images useful ladders to contemplate aspects of God, catalysts to encourage them to pray. We nevertheless need to test the truth of images by Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. We do not want to create or use false images. 3

POUSSIN - WORSHIP OF THE GOLDEN CALF 1633-4 National Gallery, London The Hebrew understanding of God as Yahweh / he who is, recognises that God is unrepresentable. The Jews were forbidden from making graven (carved) images of God, partly because the worship of similar images was part of most religions around them. God was not to be confused with the cultic gods represented by statues in other faiths. One main problem with all imagery used of God is that it can create false ideas, or limit our understanding of the power that directs and guides us. As Gregory of Nyssa said, we shouldnt allow any image of God to limit or blinker our minds when encountering his enormous greatness in prayer. Yet even in the Hebrew scriptures, from early in Israels walk with God, God gave his people metaphors to comprehend him and know his presence with them. Even the Covenant made with Abraham was an image of the relationship of a human with an invisible power. The problem of idolatry occurs when we focus faith, prayer and worship towards an image or metaphor and not on the whole true God. It is not idolatry when we use an image as a source to meditate or contemplate aspects of God and turn those thoughts into prayer to the real God. CLOUD ON SINAI The Jews knew that God was there because their traditions taught them about the encounters of their Patriarchs and prophets - ways in which the Lord had led them through history. The cloud shrouding Sinai at the giving of the 10 Commandments, pillars of fire & cloud that led them through the desert, the silent voice to Elijah on Carmel, were all signs of Gods presence, but were about mystery. . No-one knows what these clouds were like; no-one knows if Moses actually saw anything when hidden in the cleft of the rock as the power of God passed him. But Israel were taught to believe that, if their relationship with God was kept faithful, they might tangibly know that God was with them. We know this in our own Christian experience from the feelings that we sometimes receive in prayer. But most of us cant prove these or describe them adequately. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Heb.11:1) TABERNACLE IN THE WILDERNESS When God did give the Jews an image by which to understand him it was again an invisible and unrepresentable one. - The presence who sat above the seat of the cherubim and filled the Temple is one of an invisible, enormous unknown. None of them but the High Priest once a year, even saw the Mercy Seat, deep within the Tabernacle. But it was emphasised that he didnt see God. All Gods people were taught to imagine this invisible presence as being with them and the centre of their society. At the heart of their culture was the Tabernacle, then the Temple, both signs of Gods presence. MERCY SEAT God assured his people of his constant presence with them; the Mercy Seat was his throne among them. God wasnt confined to this tiny box on legs, surmounted by depictions of angels. Yet he promised the People by this object that his presence was continually with them. Thats what Solomon prayed for at the consecration of the Temple. Read I Kings 8! It is one of the most inspiring passages in the Old Testament, a prayer that Gods power and presence would be constantly with his people. The prayer is also about assurance; Solomon asks that through the Temple his people could be always assured that God was living among them. The Tabernacle and later the Temple, were symbols that God was with his people everywhere, not confined to an image or to living in a tent or Temple. That enormity and omnipresence of God could not and should not be confined in any graven image. To do so shrinks our conception of Gods majesty and of the power working around us, in us and for us, and listening to our prayer. JERUSALEM TEMPLE The Temple was designed as a place that would overwhelm people, (perhaps even subdue their regular tendency towards independence), by signifying the presence of GOD among his people. Theirs was a theocracy, God was in charge! God was mysterious, and the imagery of the Temple emphasised this, with its symbolic furnishings and its progressive courts. There were different stages of forbiddenness in approaching the Holy of Holies. God lived at the centre of his people, but at that centre was hiddenness, purity and holiness. Partly this emphasised that God is not understandable to limited human minds, partly it showed God as holy and unapproachable by that which, like us, is not holy. It encouraged believers to need God.

This gives all the more emphasis and meaning to the revolution taught in the New Testament Epistles, that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col.1:5) through him we can now enter through the veil (Heb.10:19-22) then we will see face to face (1Cor 13:12) etc. Christ through his Incarnation, teaching and Ascension, gave us a new source for the imagination, and imagery for our prayer. DURA EUROPOS SYNAGOGUE MURALS 244-5 National Museum, Damascus By the middle of the 3rd Century A.D., less than two centuries after they had lost the Temple, some Jewish traditions and communities moved away from aversion to visual imagery and used images in places of worship and teaching. The synagogue at Dura Europos in Syria was filled with murals depicting Gods faithfulness to his people throughout their history. The scenes represented the great encounters with God through the Bible. Probably this was intended to encourage worship. At a time when Jews were a persecuted minority the murals set their own worship in the context of the past triumphs of God. They were a reminder that this God of their ancestors is still faithful and protective. So when people came to be taught and to worship together in Gods presence, the art seems intended to help to focus their thoughts. This God, it is saying, is the God you are here to thank and praise and trust. ST DENIS CATHEDRAL, Paris. Rebuilding begun by Abbot Suger 1081-1151 One of the reasons that Cathedrals and churches were designed so large, dominating the mediaeval towns around them, was surely to emphasise, in a similar way to the Jerusalem Temple, that God is at the centre of the community, as a reminder to all around. We want our places of worship to stand out in society as places where people can be assured that God is available for them as well as with us Christians. Perhaps we dont see the need to dominate today by the physical size of our buildings; corporate businesses are more engaged in that type of propaganda. We want to stand out more in terms of giving people confidence that the truth is to be found with us and in this place of worship. We know that God can be found everywhere. But one of the ideas or aims in designing a church and its artefacts is to design a place where it is easy to approach God and know that he is there for all. In the 11th C Abbot Suger (1081-1151), in designing St Denis in Paris, said that he wanted the building to inspire people to think of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The churchs coloured glass was intended as an earthly depiction of the jewelled walls of Jerusalem described in Revelation 20; its precious objects, like the precious objects of the original Temple, aimed to remind people that our best treasures, possessions and worship should be available for the glory of God. The world, life, the Church and the individual Christian are meant to be places where God becomes findable to use Helen Oppenheims phrase. I believe that the primary aim of Christian art, if it is being used in the Church, is not to show the skills, cleverness or insights of the artist. It is not to make a church feel important, or attract more visitors, because it has managed to secure a commission from a famous artist, or because it is hosting an important exhibition. Church art is not to massage the egos of Christian viewers, to make them feel slightly superior to other less-culturally-informed Christians because they are artistically aware and understand the iconography. It is not even to give us a spiritual feeling by enhancing the aesthetics of our surroundings. Nor is the use of art in prayer for entertaining Christians, by giving them new methods to e with. Though some of these may be valid justifications for churches exhibiting art (and others arent), the primary aim of Christian art is to help us draw nearer to God. The main aim of Christian art if commissioned by a Church is to help those who enter its walls to draw nearer to God. If we just look at a work of Christian art and pass on unengaged that work has not achieved its potential. ST DOMINIC IN PRAYER EMBRACING THE CROSS -1442 Fra Angelico, San Marco, Florence Can art help us to imagine the God in whom we have faith and who we worship? And can art teach us to pray to that God?... In my evangelical youth Id have baulked at the suggestion. Art I thought had a teaching purpose (something that the Dominicans emphasised). To use it as a focus for prayer, I certainly thought was idolatrous. A problem with most visual art is that, unlike the Mercy Seat in the tabernacle it visually reveals rather than hides (though artists often hide certain meanings below the surface in symbols). Conceptual art may be different. God and truth are hidden within nature and thought rather than just sitting on the surface. In order to use art in prayer we need to alter the way we look at it. Were not looking at a pictures surface image. Neither should we be regarding it as primarily as an historical or art-historical object, nor something to delight the senses with its colour, technique, composition or emotion, or something in which 5

to read a religious story or symbols. All these might help us appreciate and understand the work, placing it in its true context. Studying these might also sensitise us to the colours and forms or narrative which the artist has used to create a spiritual feeling, But sometimes we need to put our appreciation of a work into the background, to ask what it is saying to us spiritually. Using art for prayer works rather like Lectio Divina. Meditaio, the study of the image or scripture, needs to be followed by contemplatio in which we allow our thoughts to be absorbed in the spiritual meaning, not the surface details or our understanding about the piece. ST DOMINIC EMBRACING THE CROSS (detail) Fra Angelico. This image, like the Annunciation we will discuss later, is not in one of the cells of San Marco but in the monks cloisters. As with the Annunciation at the top of the stairs, the monk would pass this about 20 times daily. Dominicans were taught that their founder could not pass an image of the Cross without reverencing it. The monk would be expects to do the same. Rather than just looking at a Cross and recognising it as a Christian symbol, what would this action of veneration every time you saw a Cross mean to you? Do we sometimes use the Cross too glibly as Christians today and not respond sufficiently to its full meaning and implications? HOW SPIRITUAL ART WORKS. WAYS THAT IT COMMUNICATES WHICH MAY HELP PRAYER Christian artists have used a great variety of forms and styles to convey the feeling of spirituality. Different forms can communicate different things to different people: ICON, BLAKE - The Ancient of Days EL GRECO - Opening of the 5th Seal; SPENCER - Christ in the Desert with the Scorpion & RICHARD KENTON WEBB The Fathers Heart 1 Art May Find Forms to Suggest or Express the Spiritual Nature Artists have found different formal ways to express the spiritual content of a subject. Colour Line Texture Form may all be manipulated to alter an image, to make a naturalistic subject feel more metaphysical. Byzantine Icon, El Greco, Blake, Spencer, Rothko, Expressive realism DUCCIO Back of MAESTA 2 Art Can Remind us of Stories of our Faith Christian art frequently represents Biblical scenes, legends of saints, or Christian tradition, as examples to encourage believers to contemplate their relevance: Creation, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the life of Christ, lives of the Saints, the Apocvalypse. 3 Images May Remind Us of What We Know About God It can illustrate Biblical teaching and metaphors: Father, Creator, Lord, Lover, Saviour, Wisdom, Light in Darkness, Light of the World, Good Shepherd, Watcher, Truth. However, visual art is not good at representing doctrine. Propagandist work is rarely convincing or good art. Art is better at making tangible small truths and insights than big statements. It feels more meaningful when it is more full of allusions than blatant statements. 4 Images May Remind Us of What We Do Not Know About God The Numinous, Unknown, the Power of the Creator, that which cannot be seen or understood. Images are always imperfect. No image of Jesus can represent the Jesus we know in faith. No symbol for God is ever adequate or sufficient. SPENCER Resurrection at Cookham, MISERICORDS Beverley Minster & Dennington Bench End 5 Art May Find Parallels Between The Physical World And Its Creator Metaphors, symbols and signs may help us focus on the character, holiness, power and meaning of spiritual subjects. As well as the Kataphatic and Apaphatic ways of approaching an understandin g of God, spiritual writers following the Greek and Roman Fathers also talked of a third way, the Analogy. They believed that because human beings are made in the image of God, Gods Creation must reflect the character of its Creator. So Christians could discover aspects of God by studying life and the world. This was partly justified in Pauls words at the beginning of Romans: Since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualities his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (Rom 1:20) Bestiaries and Herbals in the Middle Ages, Classical mythological parallels in the Renaissance. Acts of Mercy, Virtues and vices 6

Spencer pointed to the encounter of God we make in ordinary life. In his Cookham scenes he finds God and epiphanies within daily village life. 6 Art May Remind us of Who We Are Our true spiritual identity can be explored in contemplation of some artworks: Small in comparison with God yet valued and loved by God, Sinful, In need of Gods strength and revelation, Called. 7 Art May Focus us on things to deal with in our Christian lives Our failure, Our need to live like Christ, imitating his life and that of the saints Our need for mission 8 Christian Art Remind us of the spiritual world within and beyond ours. Imaginative Christian art can make the realm of God and the realm of the saints more tangible to the imagination. Yet it can never truly represent the reality. It can help to create a hunger for spiritual truth the aspect of the human condition which needs to be constantly relating to God and drawing sustenance from him. 9 Christian Art Gives us signs that remind us of significant features of faith upon which we can meditate: The Cross, Resurrection, the life of the saints in heaven, Incarnation etc. 10 STORY ABRAHAM AND ISAAC-Chartres North Transept, Rembrandt Sacrifice of Isaac Pope Gregory 1st, Gregory the Great was suspicious of images but he recognised their potential as a popular medium for instruction, a poor substitute in which the illiterate might learn what has been said: for it is one thing to adore a picture, another through the story (historium) of a picture to learn what must be adored. For what writing offers to readers, a picture offers to the ignorant who look at it, since in it the ignorant see what they ought to follow, in it they read who do not know letters; whence for gentiles a picture is a substitute for reading (2nd letter) Pictures are displayed in churches in order that those who do not know letters may at least read by seeing on the walls what they are unable to read in books (quotes Lubbock p 7). By his use of the term historia, Gregory seems to be referring to pictures that depict the stories of faith rather than to objects of devotion. In Chartres both the stories in the stained glass and the biblical figures on the statues remind believers that they are entering a place filled with meaning. We are surrounded by the Old and New Testament saints, heralded by the cloud of witnesses among whom we too come to worship. The spiritual and physical world are often symbolised in Christian architecture. The Church Militant is represented as worshiping in the presence of the Universal Church. One trouble with using stained glass windows or illustrations as your bible is that they may just familiarise you with the story and its figures or set you in an atmosphere of being surrounded by the stories of faith. Such representations dont really involve you spiritually in a story as much as does reading the Bible and, having done so, creating the scene in your mind. As the radio has better pictures, the Bible has the deepest stories. The best way to employ the narrative potential of art to help our spiritual devotion is to know well and study the Bible story alongside the picture. A more holistic meaning of the story can be brought alive by contemplating both word and image. Rembrandt seems to have really studied and thought through the meaning of the stories when designing his paintings of Biblical subjects. He truly seems to have thought out the clearest way to represent scene. He choses the point of a story or the significant gesture of a figure which would best represent the heart of the spiritual meaning of the subject. It is in this area, I think, that Art is most useful in terms of encouraging prayer. We can read and pray with a work of art, using a process rather like a Lectio Divina. We pray, then study the work in depth, then think of its implications, then turn that into prayer, then more personally enter the heart of the story or subject by letting it infuse us, encouraging contemplative prayer. So lets examine Abraham, the ancestor of our Faith, in Chartres and Rembrandts Abraham in this way... The story of Abraham taking his son Isaac to sacrifice is an immensely uncomfortable one, and must have been so in most cultures. It was poignant in the Middle Ages when so many children died early in life and the need for successors was recognised even more than today. It was meaningful to Rembrandt who had lost three children before he painted this picture and whose son Titus (1641 1668) would die young. 7

CHARTRES NORTH PORCH SCULPTURES C1210-15 . Chartres depiction of Abraham sets him in the context of the great Old Testament patriarchs. As worshippers came to the Mass they entered past this symbolic group, among many other groups of saints and prophets: Melchizedec Priest and King mysterious pre-figurer of aspects of Christ ( Abraham and Isaac the example of faith Moses the giving of the Law Aaron or Samuel the priestly sacrifices David royal king and example of faith whose psalms of faith were sung at every service. Each in a different way added meaning to the act of faith in which those who entered the building were about to participate. Abraham is the only one of all the figures to look away from us. He is hearing the voice of God commanding him to obey. How much do we expect to hear God as we enter church or as we begin to pray. Perhaps here he is a reminder to us of how essential it is to listen when we pray. If Abraham hadnt listened he would have lost his son! REMBRANDT 1635 HERMITAGE, ST PETERSBURG Rembrandts depiction of the scene is far more emotive and personal. We get the impression that Rembrandt has really thought through the story and decided to depict this crucial moment, not just because it was most dramatic in a way that would attract Baroque patrons. The heart of the meaning of the story of Abrahams near-sacrifice of Isaac was that he was prepared to go through with the action. Despite his desperate need of an ancestor to fulfil Gods promises to him, and no -doubt his love of his only son (with no prospect of another), Abrahams faith in God was so strong that he would obey God. Remember, Rembrandt at this time had no son and heir, so this is personally relevant to him, as well as expressing the dedication of his own Christian faith. This composition represents the point of the story exactly. The angel has waited until the very last minute to intervene. The extremely sharp knife was about to cut that throat, Abraham was REALLY going to do it. Such was his trust in God and his willingness to obey God. The face of Rembrandt here shows it all. The sorrow at what he was about to do is still on his face relief, pain and shock are all expressed. Meditating on this image might help us consider how much we are prepared to obey God in anything. Do we too easily assent to faith? Yet are we willing to go through with ALL that God asks of us? Are ALL our possessions at the disposal of God. Are we willing to make ourselves and our futures vulnerable ny obeying and following God? How much are WE willing to sacrifice? How much do we engage in mission, as followers of faith like Abraham, through whom all the nations of the world were meant to find blessing (Gen.12:3)? How much are we as faithful as Abraham? How much do we know Gods intervention in our lives? What to US is the heart of the spiritual meaning of this story, and how does it relate personally to us and our situation? From what actions might God want to rescue us, to prevent us from wrecking his mission through us? - Questions like these might be things that meditating upon this picture could arouse in us and direct us to prayer.. PANTOCRATOR (Ruler of All) - CHRIST IN GLORY Monreale Sicily Part of what Jesus did for human beings was to show that God IS in his essential parts understandable and approachable. That was the huge revelation in Colossians and Hebrews. Jesus IS the image of the invisible God. We now have a closer picture than ever before of what God is like. Now through Jesus we ordinary human beings have the right to enter through the veil of the Temple and approach a God who has revealed his nature to us intimately in Jesus Christ! Just imagine how revolutionary that must have felt to Jewish and gentile Christians reading it. God is open to us and approachable, because of the work and teachings and salvation brought by Christ. So when we look at an iconic image like this, its not just that after centuries of mistrust of images, the Church finally decided that it was right to portray Christ because God had revealed himself through him. Were meant to remind ourselves of the miracle of the incarnation. Here, if we look beyond the image itself in this man, our unseen God has revealed himself. Or rather, in Christ all of what is important about Gods nature, all that we need to know has been revealed. No wonder people venerate icons of Christ, because they are visual representations of that theological truth. Were meant to look beyond the image to the truths of faith that it reveals. 8

Thats one of the reason why an icon looks straight at us. The image is deliberately confronting us with its meaning. We arent looking at a scene, thinking about how the artist has composed the work, we arent meant to be exploring the story illustrated and the different characters involved. We are meant to look at the icon and pray by understanding the truths about our faith that it is a window upon. God the ruler of all gives us a way to understand his greatness and his glory through the revelation of his Son. One of the problems with the use of images is that they have a sensual surface, which captures the eye. Gold was used by the icon writers to show that this is about heaven not earth, we are encountering something beyond. But if were not careful we look at the surface spectacle, or the expressiveness of the mark-making, or the history and fame of the image. If were going to use art in prayer the idea is that we put those responses into the background and focus on the meaning of the work. Though some of those sensual responses may help us find extra meaning in the work. FRA ANGELICO ANNUNCIATION c1439-45 San Marco Florence Fra Angelico was a very committed Dominican Priest, even becoming the abbot of Fiesole, as was his brother a manuscript illuminator. So the art that Fra Angelico designed for the Dominican friary in Florence was more than about illustrating the Bible on the walls of the monastery. The Dominican approach to art is frequently concerned with the role of art in helping to teach us faith and devotion. But the images are about far more than presenting doctrine in a visual form. They were designed to encourage believers to pray with meaning and feeling, and to internalise the spiritual truths depicted. Their style and composition, very simple for this period in Renaissance art, enhances the feeling that this image is for contemplation and prayer. Fra Angelicos art is designed to encourage long periods of contemplation. ANNUNCIATION IN CELL For each of the monastic cells at St Marco Fra Angelico designed a different image of the life of Christ. Imagine living as a contemplative with the same image on your wall for years. It would influence the development of your soul. And that was one of the aims of these images. Most of us would say after a day living in the cell OK, Ive contemplated that enough, can I move onto another picture now, so I get an experience of the whole of the life of Christ. We have scripture to contemplate in doing that. For true monk-like spiritual contemplation we need to go through the pain barrier in prayer, and not be satisfied with a 2-minute process. To live with a picture like this for years was to live with God and the truths he reveals until he really gets under our skin and infuses our way of life. ANNUNCIATION ON STAIRS The most famous of Fra Angelicos Annunciation scenes wasnt for one of the cells. It is at the top of the stairs to their cells, the first thing they would see as they mounted the stair. Just like the mural of St Dominic embracing the Cross in the cloisters, the monks would pass this corridor mural probably more than 20 times a day, going to and from services, the refectory, to monastic tasks, etc. 365 days a year. That would be 7,300 encounters a year, 146,000 encounters with the image if youre in the monastery for 20 years. Imagine that youre a contemplative, trained to look for God in everything. This is a pretty significant encounter. Especially as each day you would also have been reading scripture, saying all the psalms, listening to daily readings in services. All your spiritual reading would also change your daily interpretation of what you are seeing and receiving. The theologian Karl Barth seems to have had a similar on-going long-term relationship with an image. Though he didnt approve of art in churches, he set up a reproduction of Grunewalds Isenheim Crucifixion on his desk. ANNUNCIATION CLOSE-UP Almost contemporary with Fra Angelico the Dominican preacher Fra Roberto suggested a way of contemplation which could be applied to art as well as to our meditation upon scripture. In exploring the attitude of Mary at the Annunciation he wrote of her spiritual and mental process as a development through: 1 Disquiet / conturbatio 2 Reflection / cogitatio 3 Inquiry / interrogatio 4 Submission / humiliatio 5 Merit / meritatio (quoted in Didi-Huberman, Fra Angelico p.67) 9

The monk, in meditating on the Annunciation, was meant to explore how each of these processes applied to his own spiritual life and how Marys example and encounter with the spiritual world was a model for our own Christian experience. Dominican teaching encouraged them to see the Annunciation as a sign of Christ coming to live in their own lives. How does this image and each of these five reflective meanings of Fra Roberto speak to you? You might consider using this theme for an Ignatian form of reflection on the subject, putting yourself and your situation into the position of Mary. Annunciation - How does Marys assent to Gods will and the presence of Christ in her life parallel the presence of God in your life? Disquiet / conturbatio - How was Mary disquieted? How are we disquieted by aspects of our faith or the demands of God upon us? How do we respond to this? Mary in Fra Angelicos painting seems fairly calm or content, despite the inner turmoil of the situation. Are we too distracted and emotional in the face of problems to trust God within them? One of the characteristics of some saints seems to have been their calm and trust in God in the face of turmoil. Do we need to be more trusting?. Reflection / cogitatio Mary thought about these things As we reflect on issues and problems within faith, how do they and our attitudes towards them change? What do we need to take time to think about and quietly examine. Inquiry / interrogatio What questions would we ask of God? What do we need to know? Submission / humiliatio. In what ways do we need to submit humbly to Gods will? What should our attitude of humility be? What IS Christian humility? Unlike humans when they assert power over others, God doesnt humiliate us; he values us and affirms us. How can we truly value ourselves yet also be humble in a Christ-like sense? Christs struggle in Gethsemane is the supreme example of the submission of someone who truly recognised their personal value to God. Merit / meritatio. Through her submission to the will of God, Mary gained merit. She expressed her recognition of this in the Magnificat, while also expressing her humility. Are we expecting the merit of God? Should we obey humbly without expecting recognition? What IS the merit God sets upon us or promises us? Is this sufficient for us? Might Christians sometimes over-value themselves?. All these and many more questions could be explored in reflective prayer. The personal questions brought up in such reflection will be different for each individual. The point of contemplative prayer is to look into the subject for long enough to allow time for the questions to arise, and to bring them to God. It is not a quick process. Remember the monks of San Marco had years to reflect on the meaning and relevance of these pictures to all aspects of their lives. Prayer, like understanding God, is not about finding a quick answer or a quick fix. We need to allow time and space to explore our relationship with God. SEVEN LAST WORDS FROM THE CROSS - Iain McKillop 2010-13 Among all the religions of the world, our Christian distinctiveness grows from our understanding of the Cross and Resurrection and who the One is who underwent the suffering and rose from death. Thats why the Cross has been represented so frequently from the point in the church when theology was beings systematised by the 3rd Century. In the earliest years of the Church the Cross is probably missing from Christian Art because it was a symbol of torture. The crucified were considered accursed; you wouldnt promote your faith to a community who thought about your symbol like that. But once crucifixion declined as a punishment, and early Church theologians had begun to work out the theology of the Cross and Resurrection, the Cross became one of our most significant signs used by the Christian faith. The Cross is multi-faceted. It can be a symbol of sorrow or triumph, a sign of love or a warning against the consequences of sin, spiritually distressing or comforting at the same time. Like an icon on the computer the sign is a short-cut to opening up a web of connections in our mind to our understanding of salvation. One of the things I value most about being a painter is that the process of painting gives me a long time to contemplate the meaning of the subject I am painting. The practice of art becomes a form of prayer. This series of paintings has been about 10 years gestating and about 4 years painting, so you can see the time I have for contemplative prayer about the Crosss meaning for me. What do you think of when you look at this Cross?... What do each of the Last Words from the Cross mean to you and your situation?... What does Christs sacrifice on the Cross mean to you personally and to the world?... How do you turn that into our prayer? 10

MAN OF SORROWS Simon Marmion c1480 & Chris Gollon Station of the Cross 2005 Originally this iconography was associated with the dead or entombed Christ. Later it became associated with the Ecce Homo (Jn. 19:5), Christ presented by Pilate to the people, the mocking of Christ, his flagellation and Christ on the Cold Stone, a non-biblical theme. Gradually it developed away from the depiction of part of the Passion narrative to be regarded more as a vision of Christ, depicting him as the one who has suffered on our behalf. It is surely not coincidental that this imagery developed at the same time as contemplative prayer was being promoted in the Church. It was closely reacted to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, from where the title Man of Sorrows derives: He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:3 K.J.V.) The Jeromes Latin translation was the source of the man of sorrows phrase: vir dolorum. The idea of this image is that we, the believer, do not hide our face from the image but allow ourselves to be confronted by the Son of God who allowed himself to suffer on our behalf. Contemplation of this image is to relate the wounds of Christ to our personal life and the salvation God has freely given to us through the lack of freedom of his Son. This movement from reading an image as narrative to reading it for interior contemplation and devotion parallels the movement towards mystical reflection in prayer. It is similar to the way writers like Richard Rolle (c.1300-1349) related Christs suffering and wounds to himself in his Meditations on the Passion. It is not surprising that the use of this image was advanced by the Franciscans, whose founder so identified with the wounds of Christ and by the Dominicans who followed Dominic in personally reverencing the Cross every time they passed one. The tradition of COUNTING GODS LOVE AND GRACE is also related to this image: This reflects the tradition of telling the beads in prayer numbering our thoughts about the grace and love and requirements of God. We see it in George Herberts poem Good Friday: Oh my chief good, how can I measure out they blood, How can I tell what thee befell and each grief tell? But images change in their relevance through different periods. The iconography of the Man of Sorrows became popular at the time of the Black Death, and at times when Plague ravaged Europe. The Pieta, symbols of Christs five wounds, and the Plague Cross (a tortured emaciated representation of the Crucifixion) became popular themes at the same time. They showed how Christ identified with contemporary suffering. Such imagery was intended to stir faith in time of desperation. What do the wounds of Christ remind us of today, after the horrors of the great wars or the holocaust and ethnic cleansing? Are they a put-off to the Church, contemporary belief or evangelism? MICHELANGELOS VATICAN PIETA 1498-99 Theres little external suffering in this piece. It internalises the feeling of suffering for contemplative purposes. This was one of the first works of art that really spoke to me Im a little jealous every time I see this sculpture because Michelangelo had this talent SO young! - sculpted when he was just 23 years old! Mary is supremely beautiful, her clothes are exquisitely carved, full of movement and poignancy. The pose of her son is so resigned and yet he and his mother both hold out hands that express a blessing on us. We have to get over the discrepancy of age: Mary seems no older than her son, which Michelangelo is supposed to have explained away as demonstrating that no one so pure could age. MICHELANGELO Vatican Pieta CLOSE-UP But we have to keep some of that thought process in the background when we ask what is it saying to us spiritually and what response is it awakening in us? One of the problems with an image like this is that it is SO physically beautiful that we need to work hard to reach through the beauty to consider its meaning. Even more of a problem occurs when we use for contemplation some of the kitsch or sentimental artefacts that some Christian traditions have created in order to encourage prayer. Michelangelo is far from kitsch, simplistic OR sentimental. The beauty is based on his intense belief, encouraged by Neo-Platonism, that truth is best expressed through, and resides in, the beautiful. We also need to reach through some of the traditions of the Church that can get in the way, like the idea of Mary as one to whom some Christian pray. Im not going to deal with this here. I explored it in a lecture on Mary at Mirfield Abbey, which you can read in full on the Companions of Mirfield website. And I expect it will be explored during the February lectures on Mary at the Cathedral which run on from these sessions. 11

The image of an ever-beautiful Mary was also a metaphor used by the Church to remind believers of their place within the Church. The Church as protective mother holds out the elements of the Body and blood of Christ to us. As many of us here this evening will be Protestant, does this image retain an aspect of that meaning for us? What this image does show is how a work of art which is both beautiful or meaningful can draw out empathy in us. One of the greatest values in the arts is that they can help to sensitise us and increase our emotional responses. Sentimentality can be destructive of true faith., If channelled properly, empathy towards a subject can help us in prayer and worship. GLOUCESTER CATHEDRAL - LADY CHAPEL ALTARPIECE Iain McKillop 2005 The presence of a work of art can contribute to the atmosphere of a sacred space and provide a focus for prayer. Zwingli, Calvin and come early mystics believed that the place of worship should be neutral, with no distracting aesthetic stimulation. Yet the creation of a space which is conducive to prayer can help many to focus prayer more truly. It has been exciting and humbling to see how the use and focus of this chapel has changed since this work was put into the chapel in 2005. Far more people go in to sit and pray. This image, set against the broken wall and glass destroyed in the Reformation was designed to give a sense that the Salvation of Christ heals the ravages of the past and the pain of life. The reredos figures also provide added visual emphasis to the spiritual associations and meaning in the Eucharist celebrated here daily. VENERATION - HODEGETRIA ICON- Znamenie / Madonna of the Sign The main idea behind an icon is that an image should help us to worship God by having an aspect of spiritual truth represented before our eyes. The argument in the early Church about whether images should be allowed, has continued in similar with similar arguments for centuries. An answer hinges on how we use the image. If we focus worship towards the image it is idolatry, is we use the image as a door to the perception of the sacred truth presented in the image, it is acceptable. The style of an icon is deliberately unreal. Strict rules were laid down for the representation of figures in icons so that they shouldnt be mistaken for the real presence of the subject. Colours, proportions, dress, the symbols, gestures and poses were all prescribed. The idea is that the writer of an icon copies an already-made image where the theology and meaning of the subject have been thought out by the original iconographer. The artist who makes an icon isnt out for personal fame, or aiming to be innovative. He or she is passing on a spiritual truth, like an evangelist. Unlike much western painting, an icon isnt meant as an expressive medium, it is a theological statement for consideration and prayer. The official title of this sort of icon is HODEGETRIA She who shows the way / A Guide on the Road. Mary is presenting Christ to the world separate from herself. She is shown in an attitude of prayer, encouraging the onlooker to pray and praise like her, pointing the way to Salvation, which has come through Christ. She also emphasises that Christ is divine, since only she could guarantee the truth of the miracle of the Incarnation, which she had experienced. She is almost literally saying: See I know this is the Gods Son; I have been the one, first-hand witness of the miracles of his conception and birth! ZNAMENIE / SNAMENIE Mother of God of the Sign The model was the Mother of God Icon in Novgorod, This icon is linked in name and theology to the doctrine of the Incarnation: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold a Virgin will conceive and bear a sign, and shall call his name Emmanuel. (Isa. 7:1 4) Mary is shown with her hands raised in prayer (orans). Christ is shown in a medallion (aureolex) on her chest (symbolic both of her womb, and also of Christ enthroned in heaven, as the outer rim of the aureolex shows golden rays and stars.) The icon is also related to the orans icon, which shows Mary in prayer, but without the son. This is an ancient type found in the Roman catacombs. The emphasis is on the divinity of the child. The child is the Emmanuel-type (God with us) or Pantokrator type (Jesus as Ruler & Judge of the World), and has his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing. Jesus robe is that of a Greek teacher of philosophy (chiton), holding in his left hand the scroll or rotulus, symbolising both his depth of understanding and the scroll of seals in the Book of Revelations (Rev. 5:1; & chapters. 6-9.. Jesus right hand gestures in the ancient iconographic gesture of discoursing on Wisdom. He is the incarnate Wisdom of God. 12

Jesus is not meant to be regarded as an infant, He looks very mature. This is the pre-eternal God and Incarnate Wisdom, who has come into the world. He is usually painted in the proportions of an adult, not clumsy bambino proportions. He is smaller in relative size to the size of Mary to indicate that he is a child. Jesus wears rich gold garments. The chiton shows both his divinity and Holy Wisdom. Forehead, eyes and ears are enlarged, symbolising a mind focused on God and salvation, and an inner watchfulness & attention. The eyes of Jesus look outward or up at Mary with Divine approval and blessing. The eyes of Mary and other saints in icons, usually turn inwards, encouraging the viewer in prayer to turn like them away from the external world of the senses. But in the Hodegetria, she looks outward, announcing, attentive to Christs presence in our lives, encouraging us to follow him. . Mary wears a shawl (maphorion) over her main robe. This is often trimmed with gold lave and decorated with 3 gold stars one on her forehead, one on each breast. These are considered to be both symbols of her eternal virginity and an ornamental stylisation of the crucifix. COLOURS IN ICONS Colours are almost always symbolic. To protect against charges of alchemy the Church stipulated the colours which should be employed for sacred meaning: RED an earthly colour (blood, flesh, sacrifice). Red is also a royal colour. Mary s garments are often dark red, representing her humanity and maternity Latin Carne BLUE is a divine, celestial colour, which also stands for purity, virginity, electedness. Jesus is often in a dark red chiton and blue himation, symbolising the union of his two natures. In Marys robes the colours are arranged in opposite order. Her tunic and cap are blue, while her maphorion is dark red. This opposite nature is deliberate: As Christ is God become human, the Virgin is human through whom God became incarnate. GREEN is the colour of the Holy Spirit, representing eternal life and eternal flowering. At Pentecost the churches were decorated with greenery. WHITE is the colour of purity, Transfiguration and the robes of the righteous. BLACK is the colour of darkness, the abyss of Hell. It can also symbolise Divine darkness, which is blindingly bright. GOLD is the colour of the Heavenly Jerusalem, heavenly beings, Its presence as the background of an icon shows that we are looking as a sacred reality, not just a physical earthly appearance.

INSCRIPTIONS ON THE ICONS All early icons seem to have had simple inscriptions to identify the stylised figures in the images and proclaim the theological truths being represented. Often identifying names became abbreviated to a hieroglyphic sign, or shortened form of the words: MP V = MR THEOU = MHTHP EOV = Meter Theou = Mother of God This Greek form is usually retained in Slavonic countries: This term is important. It is NOT as some have taken it to mean, intended to raise Mary as a semi-divine figure, worthy of worship. It is the very opposite. The term Mother of God or Thoeotokos which the Church adopted emphasises her humanity, not any divinity in Mary: It means more properly The bearer of the one who is God. IC XC = IHCOVS XPICTOC = Iesous Christos. A Cross is always painted in the aureole of Christ. In it are the initials: O ON or ON = ho on = He who is real. based on the I am that I am passage - the initials of the Greek in Ex. 3:14. The literal translation of this in the Septuagint is I am the Being. It is also written: O H or O H = The Being In the Trinity icon one initial letter was used in the halo of each person, to stress their unity. Contemplating an icon individually rather than in the context of Orthodox liturgy or on the iconostasis, we encounter truths about God and truth through silence and gaze. We have explained the symbolism of what we are looking at, but understanding is not the aim of the icon. The idea of such an image is that we turn this understanding into belief in the theology portrayed and turn that into prayer and true worship. 13

VENERATION The veneration (proskunesis) which the Orthodox Church allows of an icon is not about worshipping either the picture or the saint represented. Worship latreia in Greek, belongs ONLY to God. We look at the saint and recognise in them the qualities of their holiness, the wisdom of their learning. We are meant to be imitators of them in their closeness to God - not worshippers of them, but the examples of the saints encourage us to be better Christians following our elder brothers and sisters. I was brought up in the Evangelical Church and, even after moving into a different way of understanding and expressing my faith, I remained suspicious of traditionalist catholic attitudes towards saints, until in recent years my Spiritual Director encouraged me to think of them more as members of my family. They are represented in art as fine examples from the past for us to follow, examples of wisdom and good living for us to learn from and emulate, revered figures who show us the heights of spirituality that we might be able to attain with the Spirits strength. If we neglect the saints, it is a bit like an ado lescent saying Im independent; I dont want to acknowledge the links to my family or my past. That isnt a Christian attitude: we are meant to be communal. It also implies that the saints are of the past, not living beings in heaven (whatever heaven is). We are all part of the living Body of Christ. The Christian understanding of life beyond death implies that the saints still live and are interested in what is going on in the life of the Church both universal and militant. Veneration of saints is about recognising their spiritual life, not over-emphasising their involvement in our world, nor relying on their prayers or intercession, as some Christian traditions do. We live in the presence of God, and have Christ our High Priest and the Spirit within us as our intercessors. But the vision of the martyrs below the altar in Rev. 6:9 seems to imply that somehow those all who are alive in heaven are partly caught up in the on-going story of salvation and interested in what is still happening on earth. Saints in art can remind us of these things. EL GRECO 1590s AGONY IN THE GARDEN, National Gallery, London El Greco was trained in Crete in the icon painting tradition, which is why his style isnt naturalistic. He them moved to Venice to train in the fine art techniques of artists like Titian before he moved to paint for the Church in Spain. There the developing Counter-Reformation principles for sacred art influenced him to adapt his techniques further. Here we see not a naturalistic background. Instead the composition is divided by swirls into different parts of the scene. It seems deliberately designed for contemplation. It feels as though we are being asked to contemplate different aspects of the meaning of the scene to us in order: The night of payer - moonlight - Where and how do we prepare for prayer? The soldiers coming, presaging Christs passion and death The disciples sleep. Do we understand Christs suffering? How far does our discipleship go? The angel sustaining Christ.. Where does our spiritual sustenance come from?. The cup What was the extent of the cup did Christ drink in his Passion? What are we meant to drink in our discipleship? What does the Eucharist mean for us? The rock of the mountain like the mount where we meet the Spirit of God in the Trinity Icon, Here is where we encounter God. Christ is receiving and communicating with the light of God the Fathers love. It reaches into his heart as he prepares our salvation by prayer and dedication to what is to follow. LAST WORDS FROM THE CROSS AND RESURRECTION - Iain McKillop One of my aims behind my new paintings is that they be used for prayer and intercession. They are a memorial to all the innocents who die as a result of war. Were meant to keep that in mind as we walk the series, using them to pray not just for our own needs but the needs of the world. The tradition of moving through a series of images and letting them speak to you one-by one is rather like taking a pilgrimage. It has been a feature of prayer since fairly early in Church history. Egeria the Gallician pilgrim describes the tradition of Stations of the Cross being enacted in Jerusalem c381384. On the floor of Chartres the labyrinth appears to have been used as a substitute for pilgrimage. We re unsure of how it was used in the Middle Ages, but the tradition of praying while walking a labyrinth has been revived in recent Christian spirituality. It can help us focus on prayer for a specific subject, which we carry through the labyrinth with us. It can also be used as a walk into the mystery of God, just to spend that walk being with him, knowing his presence with us. But the labyrinth too is only a means of prayer. It must not become an idol. Like many forms of prayer, labyrinths have pagan roots, but that doesnt mean that they cannot be adapted for true Christian prayer. As Arthur Hughes wrote: All Truth is Gods Truth 14

CHURCH MURALS - GIOTTO SCROVEGNI CHAPEL PADUA 1303-5 Imagery in many churches was designed bring to life the spiritual imagination of believers. The art in a churches reminded people that the spiritual world and the story of Salvation is alive around us. Abbot Suger when he designed the first Gothic Cathedral St Denis the royal abbey of Paris, wrote that he wanted it to be an image to the people of the heavenly Jerusalem, its coloured glass and objects as an earthly depiction of the jewelled walls of Jerusalem described in Revelation 20. This painted glass at Chartres depicted the stories of the faith to surround people, as at the Dura Europos synagogue, with the recognition that this God who has been faithful through history is working for us. Abbot Suger like Gregory the Great before him wanted art on the walls of places of worship to be a teaching tool, a Bible for the illiterate. But the basic idea of all this splendour is that we are meant to come into an art-filled church and recognise that the Church is a small (and sadly imperfect) version of the life of heaven. It is designed partly for us to feel awe at being in the presence chamber of God, and be inspired to worship. We know that God is everywhere and can be worshipped and prayed to everywhere. But our churches are placed that should be designed to focus us in a place where we gather particularly to pray, worship and learn from God. The church isnt an art-gallery or museum; it is a place or a door, like an icon, through which we move to encounter God. Perhaps we need to enter our churches less as familiar spaces, and enter Cathedrals with more spiritual expectation and less of a historical outlook. We come to a church with an intention of encountering GOD, not primarily visiting a place of historic architecture or artefacts with historic or cultural associations. Perhaps we need to develop the attitude of entering our churches more like Muslims washing their feet in respect of their mosque. We could metaphorically take off our sandals as Moses did before the burning bush, and come into any church with a greater expectancy that we will meet God here. Then the whole place might help us to pray with more attentiveness and awareness. We can encounter a spiritual work of art with similar expectancy. ROBERT CAMPIN - MERODE ALTARPIECE 1425-30 Metropolitan Museum, New York. This tiny, more private altarpiece .was designed for private contemplation by a wealthy merchant family. Mary is symbolically surrounded in the central panel by many contemporary objects used for private prayer and devotion, which they would have recognised. She is shown as an example for their own prayerful contemplation. Mary is encountering God in different ways: in her purity (the brass stoop for washing), the prayer shawl, her reading of scripture, in her use of books of spiritual writings, in prayer, devotion and study. The open windows represent her receptivity to God. The wind of the Spirit moves the pages of the breviary, and enflames the fire. The guttering candle wick is blown into life. Through this the Angel appears from the spiritual realm, bringing the Christ-child to live in her. In the left hand panel Isaiah encourages the Merode family to adore and emulate Marys example. In the right hand panel Joseph busies himself with the paraphernalia of life, making mouse-traps, which symbolise Christs destruction of sin both by personal purity and through the salvation which this child will achieve. By similar diligence, the altarpiece is saying, those who follow the example of the Holy Family can be sure of faithfulness. USING IMAGINATION IN PRAYER AND IN EXPRESSING DEVOTION I am very aware that not everybody responds to art. We all learn differently. Some minds learn and respond visually, some by logical reasoning, some intuitively through the feelings, some primarily through words. The wonderful thing about God is that he does not communicate in one way. We are made by him in his image, so he knows how best to make himself known to each of us individually as well as collectively. Experience and listening in prayer gradually teaches us ways in which he speaks to us best. The wonderful thing about the diversity which God has put into the world is that, though we share some characteristics we all develop differently and respond to God differently, we make up part of the rainbow of Gods creation about which Helen Oppenheim wrote. God becomes known better, and is easier to pray to, when we all share together the insights we have gained as individuals. The artist discovers some things through his/her creativity, the theologian, the businessperson, the manual worker, the bringer up of a family, the unemployed,, or sick struggling with life learn other things. We learn most when we pool our understandings, discovering the corporate value of the Church. Most of us gain different insights by juggling different areas of life and multi-tasking. A problem with modern life is that if were over-multitasked many dont have time to look into life and find meaning in it, and find God within it. Many of us 15

need to make more time to stop and consider and prayer is part of that process. Thats where philosophers and artists and theologians come in, they have made the time to think through some of these things. Art takes time to create, and art is created by a process of thought. Thats why I value being a painter. It takes me SO long to design and construct a work that the whole process gives me months to think about the meaning of what I am producing and pray through it. It has been said that we never understand a work of art until we take the same amount of time contemplating it as the artist took in conceiving and making it. Thats impossible for most of us. But by deeply contemplating a work of sacred art we have the opportunity of exploring many of the inner truths of our faith. Art is no substitute for knowing our Bibles thoroughly and praying in the silent presence of our unseen God. But it can often help us in prayer if we use it to contemplate truths. PRAYING USING SYMBOLS AND METAPHORS. We understand God through symbols and metaphors. Islam has its 100 names for God, which represent aspects of his nature, but both religions would agree that God is greater than all those aspects put together. The way we speak of God and understand his actions in Christianity is still only a fragmentary understanding of him. Our metaphors are limited.. God our Creator is not literally our father, he is much more, as far as we know he hasnt hands that formed the universe or that mould our future as a potter forms and reforms clay in Jeremiahs vision. Christ is not our literal brother or shepherd; Gods Spirit is not air, fire, water. Such metaphors partly limit the understandability of God, partly reveal him.. They may be rich with associations and accessible but we must not regard any one of them as explaining our God or we miss out on his enormity. Thank God the Spirit is not the dove so often represented from scripture and in Christian art. He is FAR more powerful and his influence is far more active. But we are given these images to give us insights into the mystery which is the whole of that in which we have faith. The metaphors and symbols of the Christian faith are essential parts of Gods revelation of himself. He has inspired people to develop them, so that he is findable within them. We can look at a work of Christian art in a similar way. It shouldnt be idolised of course, because even the greatest artwork is only conveying a limited area of the spectrum of truth that makes up Gods marvellous light. But an artist of integrity who has cultivated their soul may communicate insights which can spark off insights in us. Zwingli and Calvin believed that the setting for worship should not stimulate aesthetically, so that the believer would focus on the truth, not be misled by emotions. The spiritual intent is laudable. But this ascetic way of thinking surely anaesthetises an important sense that God has given us with which to find him.. Because a good work of Christian art is often beautiful, and more importantly meaningful, it can stir up the human soul. This in turn affirms us with the realisation that we are valuable and lovable. In the presence of such feelings it is easier to pray to the God who values us, loves us and hears us.

ADDENDUM - Pictures for exploration if we have time:


HUGO VAN DER GOES 1475-76 PORTINARI ALTARPIECE Uffizi Gallery, Florence The Adoration of the Shepherds is brought alive by the symbolism in the flower vases of the foreground. These show who this child is: Clay jar Christs humanity - Grapes on the jar - The true Vine and wine of the Eucharist The Glass vase represents the purity of virgins womb into which Christ was implanted by: the Columbine Colomb =Dove, Aquilegia = Aquila the Eagle its wings like those of the Eagle who flies closest to the sun. The purple of the aquilegia represent both Christs Passion and the Imperial colour of his rule Its five petals the five wounds of Christ There are seven flowers and a bud: Sevenfold gifts of Spirit in bud in the baby and the bud waiting for salvation and spiritual gifts to be added to o us. Carnation - flesh-like petals - The Incarnation In the clay jar are irises and lilies with sword-like leaves the sword which will pierce Christ and Mary. Purple Iris - Imperial prince; White Iris - Prince of Peace; Orange lily - Royal Glory Below are scattered Violets symbols of Chriss humility, as is his placement on the ground. Behind is a sheaf of Wheat - The Living Bread, behind the wine of the Eucharist 16

MANTEGNA - SAN ZENO ALTARPIECE 1459 San Zeno Basilica, Verona Here the fruits and objected in the garland each represent a part of the process of Salvation, which is also represented in the Christ-child and the symbolism within each of the predella panels of the Agony in the Garden, Crucifixion and Resurrection. Each of the saints is also significant. ADORATION IN THE FOREST - Fra Filippo Lippi. c1459 ANALYSING AN IMAGE IN DEPTH Fra Filippo Lippis Adoration in the Forest has similarities to Fra Angelicos San Marco Annunciation is This is a more personal call to prayer, designed for Cosimo de Medici who also had a private cell at San Marco. Fra Filippo Lippi was trained as a Carmelite, so this reflects a Carmelite approach to prayer. The Adoration in the Forest is a picture designed for contemplation by one specific individual, though relevant to all. It is set in a dense wood. Lippi invented a new imagery, as Leonardo invented new iconography in the Virgin of the Rocks. The wood is probably symbolic, as in the opening of Dantes Divine Comedy. This is not a naturalistically set Nativity, but a reflective one, symbolic of the interior life within the forest of everyday life. It may have a similar dual meaning to Meister Eckharts description of the Nativity within the human spirit: There are two kinds of birth for humankind: one into the world, and one out of it, which means spiritual birth into God. Do you wish to know whether your child is being born in you and whether it is present, that is whether you have been changed into Gods Son? The Adoration Altarpiece was a private commission for Cosimo de Medici, by then towards the end of his life. Publicly successful, Cosimo was devoutly religious but lived with a troubled conscience. His wealth was based on usury, condemned by both scripture and Christian tradition, he had mistresses, sired at least one illegitimate child, was proud, ruthless in business, had been ambitious for power, having succeeded his father Giovanni as head of the banking and mercantile business in1529. Hed been imprisoned briefly, bribed judges and been temporarily banned from the city from 1533-4. By contrast Cosimo had also been a major peace-maker in the rivalry between Italian city-states between 1434 and 1466 and founded charities like the Foundling Hospital of the Innocents. This panel painting was commissioned for the domestic chapel of his new palace. It was to be surrounded by Gozzolis frescoes of the Procession of the Magi, painted in the same year, which contained a portrait of Cosimo himself. That procession recalled the splendour of the processions of the Eastern-Roman Emperor and powerful Italian leaders attending the Popes Council of Florence in 1439. While the frescoes reflect the pride, power, splendour and scholarship of the Medici, Lippis altarpiece quietens the spirit for inner contemplation. Its quietness challenges the viewer to focus on a simpler faith than that trumpeted on the walls of the chapel. By this time Cosimo was sick, with difficulty walking, he spent much time in the chapel settling his accounts with God. He died 4 years after the completion of the painting. Filippo was to die himself 10 years after its completion. The natural realism of the painting may be influenced by the Vision of Bridget of Sweden, who described how Christ entered the world: The Incarnation wasnt God floating among the clouds; thus was God made man, put among the rocks, the very stuff of which our world was made. Lippi removed the usual Adoration imagery. We see no ox and ass, adoring shepherds or Joseph. Christ lies directly on the ground. God has come to earth in humility and vulnerability. Cosimo is far less great than the Son of God. So great a man should remember to live by similar humility to the example set by Christ Salvation rests in this. Perhaps the Magi and angels of Gozzolis elaborate frescoes are intended as the coming witnesses to this epiphany. But the witnesses depicted in this private altarpiece are John the Baptist and Bernard of Clairvaux. Both were humble men who gave up position and wealth and dressed humbly in following Christ models, perhaps, for Cosimo as patron. John the Baptist carries a scroll behold the Lamb of God. John the Baptist was a patron-saint of Florence. John is the only figure in the painting who looks at the viewer. He is the messenger who calls us, like Cosimo, to behold and contemplate. All other figures concentrate on the focus for our contemplation, the Christ-child. Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian Order, kneels focused in contemplation. He and Mary offer us our own way of linking with God through meditation upon the person of Christ and why he came to earth. Bernard was significant for Cosimo, who prided himself on his knowledge and the Neo-Platonic scholarship of his court, because Bernard wrote against the self-indulgence of knowledge, arguing against Abelards scholasticism. Bernards homilies describe Mary as representing all the virtues of monastic life: 17

humility, obedience, silence, withdrawal, intimate prayer and personal union with God in love. (Homilies in Praise of the Virgin Mary c1120). She and Bernard encouraged the believer to be as fully abandoned to the higher love of God as themselves. Bernard was also a defender of the dogma of the virginity of Mary, significant for Cosimos unchaste past. Few nativity paintings had included the entire Holy Trinity, which here hover over the newly-born Christchild. Cosimo had helped to resolve theological dispute about the Trinity in Florence. God the Father watches benignly, as his Son offers the promise of truth and restoration of harmony to the world. The Fathers arms & Spirits wings are open. Strings of gold-dotted stars or lines of power radiate from them. They are focused towards earth in arrows. Such arrows may have reminded a Neo-Platonist like Cosimo of the love-darts sent by the gods of ancient mythology. Where they hit the earth around the Christ-child, the earth receives a blessing, as the darts of cupid, in mythology, blessed the flowers which they hit. The work of the whole Trinity is active in the giving of Christs love and care to the world while Mary and Bernard, encourage us to contemplate, pray and amend our lives. The entire circular composition suggests harmony. In the dark forest setting the restrained use of gold stands out, enhanced by dots of ochre and yellow. This may be a reminder that Cosimos position and power were based on gold. The white flowers around the baby suggest Christs purity and humility, as do the daisies, but their of five petals, represent the five wounds Christ suffered on the Cross. The carnation is a symbol of the incarnation (carne =flesh). On the ground a goldfinch, a Lenten symbol (the bird who eats among thorns and pricks his breast red) reminds us of the Crown of Thorns and Christs future suffering. Other identifiable plants appear to include some with healing properties. The landscape setting seems purportedly based on the dense woods of Camaldoly, east of Florence, the setting for the strict, ascetic monastery of the Camaldolite Order, supported by the Medici. Cosimo had a private cell in the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence, but this was his place of retreat. He paid the Camaldolites to pray fervently for him.. Several of the trees have been felled by an axe, in reminder of Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9: Now the axe is laid to the root of the trees and in the end every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire . The axe lies below the figure of John the Baptist, the one who calls for our repentance. Its blade is closest to us. Filippo signed its shaft. A straight line connects the axe, Christ and the cut tree: the Saviour will destroy the unfruitful or rotten. This may be a warning to a believer like Cosimo who stands tall among the trees of Florence and the world, and to the artist himself. The axe may also be intended as a metaphor for the artist and ministers own tools of prophecy and action. The dark forest is lonely and isolated, like the interior life into which the light of Christ becomes manifest. In the distance on the right felled logs create a bridge over a violently flowing stream. This perhaps represents the salvation achieved by Christ, though the destruction of that which makes us dark.. Below this is a white ibis killing a snake symbol of Christ in purity destroying sin. The rocky earth has cracked open down the middle. It has been suggested that these might suggest the coming of Christ to live in his world, an opposite of the rending of the veil and the earthquake at his death. It was then thought that the crack in the human skull, the fontanelle was where the soul entered at birth, then exited from the same place at death. The composition is both circular and triangular in structure. The cut wood and axe are base points, in line with Christ. The Father is the pinnacle of the triangle to whom worship is to be focused. Marys body and head and the staff of John point to the Father. The Son directly below the Trinity is the image in bodily form of the invisible God. Lines of light point to him, the whole focus of the power of God is in him. The consummation of his action will be the Cross as depicted beside him by the goldfinch. The lines of dotted light and flaming darts of power which radiate from the Trinity give focus to this, as do the dots of fragrance and blessing which rise from the ordinary ground on which he lays. Perhaps, these might also be associated with the dews of Hermon, which saturate the earth with Gods blessing. The whole composition encourages the viewer to focus on the meaning of this child, to meditate on each of the richly meaningful symbols and gestures, then through contemplative prayer to worship in humility. Is there one image that best speaks to YOU, or into YOUR situation, and encourages you to contemplate? Try analysing its meaning in similar depth, then turning that meditation into contemplative prayer. Iain McKillop 18