Wilderness art

Mar 12th, 2012 | By | Category: Spirituality

The fact that Ireland is an international destination and the lack of a Saturday delivery by An Post , mean that the weekly edition of the Church Times that reaches its British readers on a Friday, does not come through Irish letter boxes until Monday.

A habit formed in teenage years of reading a newspaper from the back page forwards, (we took the Daily Mail and the sports pages were the only ones I trusted). The habit continues, despite the lack of sports coverage in the Church Times, and porridge on Monday mornings is eaten while reading Ronald Blythe’s ‘Word from Wormingford’ column; usually a spiritual reflection on the beauty he has encountered, or the holiness he has met, in the previous week.

‘Art and prayer’ is the theme of the column this week. The first paragraph concludes,

‘Art and theology are in­div­is­ible, of course, but sometimes it is necessary to point out their unity. Liturgy is art. Prayer is high art’.

A quarter of a century in parish ministry and there is much liturgy that is not art; and much prayer that is far from any definition of art. It was the second paragraph, though, that prompted a real sense of disagreement.

‘The Lenten desert was hideously artless for Jesus. A barbaric experi­ence. Perhaps, when it entered his head that a jump from the Temple dome would rescue him from the degradation of execution, the beauty of Herod’s creation lit up the desert darkness, and art itself revealed its imperishable nature’.

Hideously artless? Sitting staring into the night sky could never be hideously artless. Jesus would have known the Scriptures, Job 9:9 speaks of the stars, naming constellations:

‘He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south’.

Pleiades and Orion appear again in the book of Amos. How many tales and stories and legends had grown up around the stars? How many centuries had humanity stared into the night sky and woven thoughts and dreams into great sagas? How could the desert ever be ‘hideously artless’?

Strangely, by a sub-editorial juxtaposition, hardly more than a centimetre away,  words spoken by Roberta Rominger, the general secretary of United Reformed Church, answer Ronald Blythe’s contention. Rominger was minister in a church in Tombstone, Arizona.

I walked past the OK Corral every time I went to the post office . . . Tombstone sits in a high valley surrounded by hills. The sky is huge. The first time I went there, we had an incredible lightning storm. I knew that the landscape would nurture my spirit, whatever hap­pened in the church, and it was true. I loved seeing the cactus come into bloom, which seemed to happen overnight when the summer rains began. The birds were amazing — cardinals and orioles and road-runners. And then there were the snakes. . .

Hideously artless? What tales and visions might one imagine in such a place?

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