Communities are messy. As soon as we begin to engage with other people on anything other than a surface level we open ourselves up to getting hurt as well as opening up the possibility of hurting others through our own words, actions and ignorance of the consequences of our actions. I don’t want to hurt other people, much less do I want to be hurt myself; such is the risk of engaging with others.
This piece I made recently begins to capture the dirty ambiguity of being in community. I found the wood by the side of the road on my way into Sheffield. It was heavy and sodden in the rain, encrusted with mud, dead leaves and the grime of the city. Hauling it into my car I couldn’t help but get filthy.
The image is based upon Rublev’s icon of the Trinity which was originally made in Russia in the 15th century. So much has been written about this famous icon and for many it is a symbol of community at the heart of who God is. The open space at the table that faces us is there for us to join in if we so desire, there is no compulsion, simply invitation.
The cup and the invitation resonate with sacred stories this Holy Week. Jesus shares a final meal with his friends, pouring wine to share with them, knowing that in a few hours one of them will betray him, one will deny he knows anything about him and most of the others will scatter in fear: A dirty and complex moment. Later Jesus kneels alone in a garden and prays fearful and alone that God would take away the cup of suffering that he was about to drink: dirty, on his hands and knees in the grime with beads of sweat like blood on his forehead.
The invitation in this image is to become intimately involved in the blood and guts of life in all its pain, joy, complexity and moral ambiguity. If you touch this piece your hands will get dirty, the grimy wood crumbles and frays around the edges. Just as the sacred stories of Jesus refuse to be cleaned up in order to be made safe and acceptable for respectable people (although the Church has often tried to do this by reducing them to doctrines and clever theological formulae). The stories have dirty and frayed edges.
That’s at the heart of the story of Holy Week. ‘Holy’ is often seen as a word that has connotations of purity, of being pristine and clean. That kind of ‘holy’ is separate and hermetically sealed off from anything that can contaminate it but this is the opposite of the holiness in the Jesus story: with Jesus ‘holy’ means being down in the dirt. He invites us to follow him there and give our whole selves, to tear open our hearts and engage deeply with the messy, morally ambiguous, fucked up world we live in.