Mary and the Midwives

Mother Anne Dyer is doing another of her splendid art courses again. Mind you, they are at the busiest times of the year for clergy (Lent and Advent) but I’m determined to take time out to enjoy some visual stimuli.

This week we were looking at the journey to Bethlehem, midwives, heavenly hosts, ox and ass, and adoration of shepherds.

The one that stuck in my mind was by Janet McKenzie who is an American artist. I have cards of many of her paintings but can’t remember where I got them. She has done some amazing paintings of the holy family as Native Americans or black people.

This one is called Mary and the Midwives. Mary is not often shown in labour in art – because of that whole immaculate, virgin thing – but here she is holding her belly and the baby. She seems to me to be in her own world, focusing on the pain, on the moment. And the Holy Spirit hovers above her, keeping guard.  The midwives sit silently, praying? They are giving her space until they are needed. They look so beautiful, wise and serene. Love it. How about you?

marywithmidwives mackenzie

Harvest Quiet Day with pics

Our Area Council had a Quiet Day on Saturday led by the Rev Anne Dyer. As you know, dear readers, I struggle with silence. But this extrovert does appreciate it in little bursts and a day is not so long. Right? What was even better was that we got to speak over lunch. Now, that’s my kind of Quiet Day and I shall always do that in future when I’m leading them.

The topic was Harvest and Fruits of the Spirit and as ever, Anne gave us some lovely pics to ponder. Images always work for me. I do like a painting to ponder. Let me share some of them with you. Ponder away.























Art and Spirituality Parish Retreat

So, no sooner am I back from the Clergy Silent Retreat and rejoicing at noise and blethering willy-nilly, than I take some of my little flock (and some of my neighbouring little flock) on a silent jaunt back to Whitchester. This time I was leader (let’s hear it for leadership in the church!) so I got to do some talking and lead worship so that was fine. I was staying in the Buccleuch Suite which is rather grander than the other chintzy rooms with a huge white leather sofa and TV. The sofa is so that one can meet with Retreatants for spiritual guidance, I’m guessing, but it is the slippiest sofa you ever sat on. In fact, I found it perfect for afternoon naps. Unfortunately the TV only seemed to get BBC1 so my plan to get away from all aspects of the Queen’s Jubilee rather failed as they seemed to have it wall to wall all weekend. That’ll teach me.

In between talks I did manage to catch up on some more reading in the delicious recliner in the ‘sitootery’. What did I read? Well thank you for asking. I read Jesus Freak by Sara Miles which is a kind of follow on to Take this Bread. In fact, I didn’t enjoy it quite so much because it did rather go over the same ground. However, if you’ve not read the first one so recently, then I’m sure you’d enjoy it more. It is more theological and reflective I think. But you still come away from it thinking what a crap Christian you are inspired and refreshed.

I also finished How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran which is one of the funniest books I’ve read for a long time. Every man, woman and child should read this book. (But probably not on a Silent Retreat as there is a risk you will get pains from trying to stifle sniggers.)

My GP is encouraging me to read Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn which is kind of a study in the Sacrament of the Present Moment for non-Christians but with the Buddhism taken out. Does that sound complicated? Well apparently many medical people are now using this method of relaxation for patients who suffer from stress, chronic pain, obsessive compulsive behaviour, etc. (I’ll leave you to decide which category I might fit in to!) It all seems jolly nice and worthy but I’ve only just started so I’ll let you know how I get on.

I also managed to squeeze in 37% of The Private Patient by PD James on the Kindle. Its ages since I read any PD James and I’d quite forgotten what a great writer she is of that genre. And yes, I do have a wee crush on Inspector Dalgliesh. Now I’ll need to finish it quickly before I forget the plot. (Or lose the plot.)

But what about the Retreat, I hear you cry? Well it was on Art and Spirituality and we looked at four paintings with a bit of history, a bit of meditation and a bit of pondering. The feedback was good but the talks could have been a bit longer, I’m told. (Note to self – don’t start writing the material just a week before you leave on retreat.) Music at mealtimes didn’t go down terribly well. Someone, who shall not be named but you know who you are Ian,  said he wanted to take out a shotgun and kill the Swingle Singers singing Bach. How can you not love them? I don’t know. It seems that behind my back there was much silent rejoicing on Sunday at breakfast when the power went off and I couldn’t get the CD player to work!

We arrived to glorious sunshine and enjoyed sitting outside with the noise of the countryside deafening us all. Yellow birds, pink birds, bumblie bees, dogs, pheasant (not turkeys I’m told), sheep, lambs and cows. What a racket! The second day was dull and cold so I made a log fire which whiled away an hour or so keeping it stoked etc. Our last day was sunny again. There were some moths (one was squished with a copy of Christianity Today) and a few bats. It is nice to be home.

Seeing and Believing 3

Yesterday was the first day of the third course called Seeing and Believing which Anne Dyer is putting on in our Diocese. I did the first course and really enjoyed it, but sadly couldn’t do the Lent one because my diary didn’t allow it.

The theme yesterday was the Art of Resurrection, Conversion and New Life so we spent a few hours looking at delicious images of the Resurrection from early catacombs to the present date. It was absolutely fascinating and I was glad to see a few of my own favourites in there too.

However, this painting was new to me and is the one that has stuck in my head.  I think it is called The three Marys by Henry Ossawa Tanner from 1910.

I love that it depicts the three ages of women (as the Magi do for men) and the different expressions on their faces. What can you see? Determination? Anxiety? Fear? Horror? Awe?  That and more, I suspect. The light shining from the tomb shows great warmth on their figures although there is a coldness from the moon and the dark blue skies.

You could write a story about this painting.

Sharing ideas

Remember when you were a curate and full to bursting of fresh ideas and plans for what you’d do in YOUR church? Remember the dreams you had, the plans for creating visual extravaganzas because you are a visual person and not a word person? Remember how some of them worked and others fell flat? Such is ministry.

I was showing my little church to a friendly curate last week and she asked where I got my stand-up letters from. Then it occurred to me that others might be interested too. They come from Hobbycraft and are 3D brown paper mache and stand about 8″ tall and are £1.99 each. I paint them with acrylic paint (2 coats) and they look wooden and quite substantial. At my old church they stood on the side altar, but here they are on a table at the door with tealights in front of them. Everyone remarks on how welcoming it is.  I have different words – REPENT for Lent, ADVENT, EMMANUEL and ALLELUIA for Easter. I might do a REMEMBER for November this year. Lent and Advent ones are painted purple (of course) and Easter and Christmas are gold. The candles definitely enhance them.

Perhaps you can think of other words to do? (Keep it clean please!)  Or any other visual ideas to share?



Seeing and Believing

As part of our Diocese’s Adventures in Faith programme, the Rev’d Anne Dyer is offering a course called Seeing and Believing looking at art and theology. I missed the first session because I was in Windsor, but yesterday was the second. One of my little flock and I went to Embra on a bus – yes, a bus! That must be the first time I’ve been on a bus for about 5 years and it was terribly exciting. The things you see when you’re not concentrating on the road. (And the things you do when everyone around you has a free bus pass.) We were a little early so we managed to squeeze in a Starbucks with a bacon buttie which was all terribly cosmopolitan to someone living in the sticks, but of course we’d got the time wrong and walked in 15 minutes late.

First we adored some lovely pics of the catacombs at San Callisto, and then some mosaics from San Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna and San Vitale, Ravenna, and some Giotto frescos at Padua. All rather gorgeous.

We then moved on to diptychs and Books of Hours, in particular the one shown – Mary of Burgundy’s Book of Hours. (I thought the little angel sitting holding a candle in front of the man in burgundy was actually a West Highland Terrier.) Love the fact that she is using a piece of green silk to hold her book and stop it getting marked.

Then we trekked over to the National Gallery and had a wander round the upper floor where the Netherlandish, early Italian, and Renaissance stuff is. One of my favourite rooms, actually and we got a nice man to keep turning the Scottish diptych for us. Lots of Virgin and Childs to adore.

I also noticed that Poussin’s Seven Sacraments were back in place, having been out on loan when I was last in. My fave is the Eucharist just because the light is so beautiful.

And after a few hours of culture we got back on the bus and meandered home through the back roads of West Lothian.


Overdosed on Art

I had to be in Embra today and Son #1 wanted me to go to the RSA 2011 Exhibition. He’s a big John Byrne fan and he’d heard there were a few of his pieces, which indeed there were. It is worth going to see, if for nothing else but the wide range of art on show and for sale. Some of it was breathtaking, some puzzling, some just plain weird, and some I’d have bought like a shot if I had a few thousand to spare. A Hunting Lodge by Ken Currie was dark and sinister.  The Iain Stewarts studies of Cape Wrath were dramatic, and Bridget Steel’s pieces were almost gruesome but too interesting to be so, if that makes sense. Lots more that I liked but don’t remember the names. I do struggle with modern or conceptual art unless it makes me smile and there were one or two of those.

Then we went on to the Shadows of the Divine exhibition at New College, my alma mater. This incorporates the Methodist Art Collection which I have on postcard but it was great to see in full size. And there were also some paintings by Scottish artists for sale: another John Byrne too.  The collection featured art by Graham Sutherland, Georges Rouault, Craigie Aitchison, Elisabeth Frink, Peter Howson and Eric Gill among others.  It was mostly quite modern and some abstract and it was really the little Gill which I’d have taken home if I could.

And you know I felt much better at the end of it all. Tired by happy. Really must do this more often. And it made me want to paint. Desperately.