Category Archives: Painting

Creating a better image?

By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

Hebrews ch. 11 v3 (Message translation)

From time to time I spend a weekend in Oxford learning theology from some of the best teachers on the planet. The last time I did this we had a session on creation. This was good and helpful but during the Q&A my mind wandered and I noticed a huge tree in the window behind the teacher. In early spring there were no leaves yet and I began to look at the way it was put together, the patterns of twigs and branches, the light behind it.

“How” I asked, “Did God make that tree? Had he created it like a sculptor, twig by twig. Or is there some sort of beech tree template? Or is it just the result of blind evolution?”

To give them their due they took the question seriously. But it soon became clear that there was no theology that explains how the natural world is put together, no theology of beauty. Maybe we’ve just never needed one before. Until recently, it was just incredibly hard to reproduce an image. To reach more than a few people took huge amounts of time and money. But now we are bombarded with images and almost all of these are photos. Photos seem to accurately reflect what we see but they hardly ever do. Mostly, they present us with a flat, frozen version of reality.

Recently, me and my son visited an exhibition of modern portraits. One of the things that really struck me was how little colour was in most of them. Although they were painted with incredible skill they had the same look as most photos, a bit flat and colourless. A few of them looked like real paintings and it was one of these that won the competition.

And it seems to me we do need a theology of beauty, of what it means to see the world. But I’m not sure this needs to be written down. Maybe it just needs to be painted. As the writer of Hebrews says – what we see created by what we don’t see.

We need to create better image.

More quiet time at the pond…

It’s been a hard week, with plenty of pressure at work so today I went back to the pond to find some peace. I wasn’t the only one. There were plenty of people around enjoying the afternoon sunshine. 

Painting on the iPad is very different from real painting and it could take a while to find a style, but I’m enjoying the experimentation.

Finding quiet time…

One of the things we are looking at in our church is ‘quiet time’. Traditionally this means reading the Bible, with a study guide for a period each day. With my new iPad I found my own quiet time sitting by the pond in Priory Park. There was a lot going on in the park, a lot of people coming and going for a community fair, but it all melted away as I looked at the light on the pond and trees. 

In this period of uncertainty it’s more important than ever to find some quiet time, however we do it. I’m all in favour of Bible study but I may just be going back to the pond to do another painting.

A picture for the referendum

image My blog output has been really light recently. This is partly because the technology at home has been getting slower and also because I have been spending more time doing art. But now I have an iPad I can combine the two. This is an image I’ve had in my head of what Europe could be. No more explanation. Just look at the picture.

Painting and the missing soul

Alice 0316

Two quite significant things have happened to me in the last two weeks. The first was that I finished this painting. Its difficult to be completely happy with any portrait, there is always something more that can be done. But I feel I have turned a corner and, finally, I’ve found a style that makes sense.

The second thing is that I spent a long weekend in Oxford studying Christian Apologetics (which is just a fancy way of saying modern theology) and I came away with a new book by Alister McGrath – ‘Inventing the Universe’. Its rather a grand title and I’m not sure that the book entirely lives up to its promise. But it had some really interesting thoughts about the soul. He says:

Modern neuroscience has no place for the idea of a ‘soul’, understood as some immaterial part of the body. Neither does the Christian Bible. The ‘soul-body’ dualism lives on in popular culture, both secular and Christian. Yet the best view – found in both contemporary neuroscience and Christian Theology – is to think of humanity as a physical unity: a single body, not a ‘body and soul’

I had always suspected that this was the case and I quite like the idea that the soul may have gone missing. It makes a lot more sense of the world we actually live in.

Lent Diary: First Sugar Free day

IMG_0745I have my painting class on Wednesday but for the last few weeks we have been doing collages instead. At the end of the morning a few more pieces of paper are stuck on the paper and a lot are on the floor. I’ve really enjoyed doing this but it makes the whole business of making a picture even more mysterious. Why one colour rather than another? When is it finished? Why is my own state of mind so obvious in the end result?

After a sugar free day I’m feeling fine if a bit hungry. I didn’t feel at all tempted by the chocolate biscuits this morning but it is only day one.

Pilgrimage reflection – Boxes, mindfulness and what Jesus can give to the world.

First a bit of background for those who don’t know. Last week a group of us from our church spent 5 days walking from Reigate to Winchester (about 75 miles). Before you ask (everyone has) this was pilgrimage for softies. We stayed in hotels and had our luggage taken for us. But, as I hadn’t done nearly as much training as last year it was physically a lot tougher.

One of the great things about a pilgrimage is it re-connects the spiritual and physical in a very real way. It also gives some space to consider and reflect. On the fourth evening we stayed in a retreat centre owned by the diocese of Winchester. This meant we had lots of room and also access to a quiet chapel. On this evening we were asked to take some paper and draw boxes on it. In each box we had to draw or write something which represented a part of our life. We then put these papers on the altar and offered them to God. The drawings I did are below:

Boxes

But drawing these pictures, with the definite lines between them, made me start thinking about the way I live my life. If I were to draw this as an accurate representation it would be a mess. The lines would be blurred; each box would seep into the other. Some boxes would be superimposed apon another one like an old ‘double exposed’ film. So, for instance, while I’m watching TV I’m thinking I ought to be cooking. While I’m praying I think how I’d like to be reading a novel. While I’m writing a blog post I’m thinking how I ought to be doing the housework. And I don’t think God wants me to live like this, not anymore.

This afternoon I was chatting with my daughter and she said that she was struggling with one of her skating moves. ‘I can’t do it full-heartedly,’ she said. Of course it was the wrong word. But I like it. I want to live full-heartedly. Each day on the pilgrimage came with joys and difficulties. On two days I was navigating which meant I also had to make sure everyone was keeping up and going in the right direction. Also, because I wasn’t very fit it was tiring at times. But there was great joy both in the beautiful landscape, being with my fellow pilgrims and walking with God. Living in the moment I felt I was really walking with God.

Towards the beginning of the walk we stopped at St Martha’s church. This is a small, ancient church set high on the downs. After spending some time inside the church we had some time to explore the churchyard before we set off again. So I got my paints out and painted this quick sketch over the valley:

From St Martha's Hill

And I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t worry about what other people were doing and while I was doing this I was completely lost in the moment. Enjoying the beauty of the view and being able to put it into paint.

Two themes kept on coming up during the conversations on the pilgrimage – mindfulness and evangelism. Mindfulness is much in fashion at the moment. For non-Christians it means filling your mind wholly with your immediate experience and letting worry and anxiety slip away. This could be your own breathing, a beautiful tree or some great wise saying. This is not a bad thing and, in this sense, both walking and painting are great mindful experiences. The rhythm of walking, especially day after day, soothes the mind. Moving gradually through a changing landscape fills the mind with interesting things at a pace it can cope with. Painting a scene in front of you is wholly absorbing, there is simply no room for anything else while you are doing it.

But, for a Christian, mindfulness has a much deeper purpose. By calming the mind and filling it with good things we are allowing God to speak to us. We may sometimes hear God’s voice directly but often it is the good things themselves, the beauty of the landscape, the conversation of friends, which will speak just as clearly. I am reminded of Jesus’ story about the seed:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was tramped down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop”

Our minds are rich earth indeed. But if they are full of the weeds of worry then nothing will grow in them. But if we are growing and walking with God then we can do what we like. Day by day, minute by minute we can choose what we do and it will be the right thing.

So there are many gifts Jesus can offer to the world and to us. Kindness, justice and compassion are just some of them. But, and it seems to me that the world needs this more than anything, the greatest gift is peace. Peace in the world must start with peace in our hearts.  In the slow tramp of feet, the landscape opening up and closing in, the ever changing conversations and the moments of stillness I began to find that peace. It still seems like a fragile thing but, even so, I pass on the timeless greeting:

Peace be with you