The Annunciation unveiled

I managed to get my painting of the Annunciation finished in time for advent. I always feel a little bereft after working on a painting and then sending it out into the world – like a child leaving home to fend for itself. Anyway, here it is:

The Annunciation: Eve as Mary.  1.0mx1.5m oil and acrylic on canvas

Annunciation_painting

And some  detail:

Annunciation_detail_daylight

I’m not much of a photographer and paintings always look better in real life than in photos!

It will be on display at Highfield Trinity Methodist Church  if you would like to see it (I will post the details of dates and times soon).

Eve did a great job modelling for me and I’m pleased with the way it turned out, it fascinates me how the archetypes of Eve and Mary overlap. I wanted to capture this ordinary school girl in the moments after she heard the news. It’s a secret only she knows – maybe she’s just got home from school, her parents aren’t home from work yet, and for this quiet time she holds the secret to herself, within herself. I wonder what she’s thinking.

 

UPDATE (1/12/2010)

The exhibition is at Highfield Trinity Church

London Road, Sharrow

Friday 17th and Saturday 18th December

10 am to 7 pm

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24 days of wonder

Here’s my challenge for advent – to seek beauty, wonder and awe in the everyday.

Advent itself is a seeking, a longing for that which is not yet; watching from the ship for the first glimpse of land after weeks on the ocean. So I will be looking for these small cracks through which, perhaps, a wider reality can be seen.

Trying to see the world more deeply, every day I will post an image of something I’ve found that is just a little bit wonder-full. I might not succeed, but will do my best.

If you get email notifications of each blog post and don’t want to be inundated with daily emails then you may want to set your email filters accordingly (alternatively if you haven’t subscribed and want a bit of wonder in your email each day then you can click on the subscribe button on the right).

I hope this might inspire you to look at the world differently – to seek out the moments of awe.  And if anyone would like to contribute a wonder for advent, something beautiful in the midst of the ordinary, then email me a photo of what you’ve found and I will, with your permission, post it here.   

The wilderness holds no meaning

So we could spend our lives seeking out these experiences of awe, these moments when we touch the transcendent. We might try meditation or sky diving, or psychotropic drugs or hiking to Machu Picchu. And we find the fleeting instant as the curtains of reality pull back to glimpse the immensity of the universe beyond. That transcendent moment of awe can transform us as we gain an insight into a wider reality (although, depending on how we do it, the way we get there might not do us much good in the long run).

 

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I can think of a few times in my life when this has happened in a very profound way. Sitting in front of a Rothko painting at Tate Modern I can remember reality being to unfurl itself before me. His paintings at first glance seem like simple blocks of colour – but look more carefully and the subtle layers and nuances of shade and hue begin to resonate and open as a window into a deeper way of seeing. Like meditating to touch the transcendent – the paintings take time to reveal themselves. I walked from the gallery wide eyed, feeling pretty spaced out.

This is wonderful (literally wonder-full) stuff and I would encourage anyone to seek out these fragments of awe. However, as I wrote last week, I don’t think it can end there.

 The problem is that there is a risk of reducing spiritual life to a series of profound experiences or, even worse, to a series of cool experiences. The wilderness may well inspire awe but, as David Vann writes in the Guardian about Sarah Palin’s reality TV show (insert your own comment about the death of Western Culture here): “The problem with wilderness is that it has no inherent meaning”.

Moments of awe have no inherent meaning they, like nuclear physics, are neither good nor bad but can be used for either end. In addition, these moments of awe, like nuclear physics, contain a lot of potential power so we need to take care to use them wisely.

 I think that sacred narratives can help us to do this. For me this is found in the story of Jesus; because of the accidents of my life it’s the particular narrative I find myself in. (I can’t speak for other faiths and am making no exclusive claims – from my small experience of Buddhism I am confident that the same moral dimension is found there and doubtless with other faiths too – but these aren’t my stories to tell). 

I don’t have to look to the life of Jesus but I choose to (for all sorts of reasons – but emphatically not because I think I would go to hell if I didn’t). If I bring the story of Jesus alongside an experience of transcendence and awe then I am compelled not to disengage and get lost in some cool, mind expanding experience but to re-engage with the world at a deeper level. To get down on my knees and get my hands dirty, to go to uncomfortable places in order to serve and love those who have been dismissed by so many as unlovable. For me this story is both inspiring and deeply disturbing – it is hard to engage with and it would be much easier to stay lost in awe and wonder, but Jesus grounds that experience in the real, material world.

 Anyway, all this is a caveat, a prelude to my plan for advent which should involve finding 24 days of wonder in the most unlikely places…      

A grey day and the Skeleton Coast

I was walking through the drizzle that made Sheffield city centre look even more grey than usual and was feeling somewhat morose when I came across an amazing series of images. The Wild Planet photographs were displayed in the open air – each one a large and stunning image from different corners of the natural world. The image that entranced me was of seals on the skeleton coast  – huddled as tiny dots at the foot of towering sand dunes.

Skeletoncoast

 The Skeleton Coast is a 1,500km stretch of wilderness where the Namib Desert collides with the Atlantic Ocean. The Bushmen of Namibia call it ‘the Land God Made in Anger’. Standing in front of that image in the midst of the mundane and monotone city filled me with awe.

Awe stirs into life in the pit of my stomach when confronted with these vast empty spaces. When I have stood at the edge of the Sahara in a dusty sunrise or looked across the Arctic Ocean with the midnight sun nudging the horizon; to see the tracts of sand or ocean, nothing upon nothing upon nothing, the beauty strikes me so deeply. The same feeling of joy and dread twists in our souls when we see the sky on a clear night, or look into someone’s eyes and see the infinite depth and mystery of another human being.

Awe is, I think, the kernel from which our spiritual lives grow.

It would be impossible to live in constant awe – each moment dumbfounded by the immensity of existence. I guess our minds have evolved in such a way as to block out or limit, for the most part, any experience of awe that might creep up on us and distract us from focussing on what we need to do to survive; go to the supermarket, find a job to pay the rent, find company to relieve our loneliness and on and on.  In certain moments the curtains pull back and awe breaks through but too much would probably drive us insane (As Douglas Adams writes with regards to his Total Perspective Vortex ‘If life is going to survive in a universe as infinitely vast as ours the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion’).

What should we do with that sense of awe – whether it comes from the deep experience of meditation or seeing a reflection of the big bang in the Large Hadron Collider? To still our minds and truly experience existence in all its wonder is a worthy end in itself and will transform our perspective on the world. Even on a grey day in Sheffield we can still experience wonder if we stop to see deeply. But I don’t want to simply stay there – with my mouth agape and every neuron firing, the universe ablaze – what the subsequent step might be I will explore in the next post.

Imago meditations

I promise not to use this site as a notice board very often as I know that many of you who read this aren’t based in Sheffield. For those who are nearby, however, can I draw your attention to a series of creative meditations that I will be leading over the next few weeks…

These will take place in the arts chapel at Endcliffe Methodist Church, Ecclesall Road, Sheffield (entry to the chapel is down the side alley rather than the main door – it will be signposted).

Starting at 7.30pm the pattern of the sessions will start with quiet reflection and guided meditation following either Ignatian spirituality (imaginative engagement with a Bible passage) or Lectio Divina (reflection on a particular word or phrase).

Within the meditation there will be the opportunity to make art or to simply remain in stillness and silence.

The sessions will last for around an hour and then all are welcome to come next door for a drink at the Porter Brook.

If you think this might be for you then it would be good to see you. In addition, if you know of anyone else who might be interested then please forward these details.

If you need any more information then don’t hesitate to contact me by email: rjstott@hotmail.co.uk

The dates are as follows:

7.30 pm on

 Tuesday 16th November

Tuesday 23rd November

Tuesday 30th November

Tuesday 7th December

Tuesday 14th December