Friday, December 06, 2013
intuitive worship: baptism, ministry, deeper water and Psalm 42
Today we farewelled a colleague. They had expressed a desire for a ritual moment, so over a number of days, by email, among a number of folk, a service of leaving was sketched.
It’s been a hectic week at College and with one of the key folk sick, I wasn’t convinced that all the i’s were crossed or t’s were dotted. Just in case, I grabbed a Bible as I left my office – a useful tool in case of emergencies.
Sure enough, it emerged on the walk over that no-one was down to do the Bible reading. I’d suggested it, so was happy to read. Especially since I had a Bible.
It was the Psalm for today in the Lectionary, Psalm 42. It fitted really well with the opening song. The colleague loves Paul Kelly, so we’d chosen Deeper Water, a song about growth, journey, life.
Deeper water, deeper water,
Deeper water, calling them on
As the song played live, I began to wonder were to stand to read. My eyes settled on the baptismal font. Water. An intuitive link gets made in my mind.
So as the song ended, I stood and walked to the baptismal font. I introduced the Psalm as about deeper water, as about where is God in deeper water. (As a hart longs for flowing streams (v. 1); Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me (v. 7).)
As the Psalm ended, I returned (Djed) the lyrics of the song. “Deeper water, calling you on, and you’re never alone.” I dipped my hands in the water of the baptismal font and walked across to our departing colleague and bent to make the sign of the cross on his forehead.
An intuitive moment – a mix of Paul Kelly, Psalm 42 and the Christian ritual of baptism. For it is in our baptism that we are called into ministry. So a re-affirmation of baptism as that which holds us on the ongoing journey into ministry.
A few extra seconds, wordless, in which the waters of baptism were applied. And I returned, in silence to my seat. It had felt, intuitively the right thing to do.
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, baptism, ministry and Psalm 42). For more resources go here.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I journal religiously twice
I journal religiously twice. Religiously because it is a paired set of spiritual practices, that keep me in grounded, reflective and in community.
I journal religiously once, publicly, on this blog. It is a place to collect what I’m reading and doing. It’s been a discipline for over 11 years now. I began because I wanted to connect beyond Sunday with my congregation and to explore this new way of being human that is a digital world. It helps me reflect on ministry. I regularly think about stopping but then a helpful comment opens up a new insight and I realise the gift that is communication in community.
I journal religiously a second time, my own handwritten journal. It’s been a discipline from when I began formally training for ministry. I never think about stopping, for handwriting grounds me, connects me. I need to save insights, to record my pain, to jot down the spiritual insight of a moment walking or reading.
Over time, I’ve introduced new practices. Every Saturday I try and collect the achievements of a work week in a few simple dot points. This is essential, for my current work is overwhelming and relentless and I need to remind myself of progress. Or I use Celtic knots to untangle the complexity of an issue. Sometimes these notes can be worked up for public consumption, an insight becomes a sermon, a section allows me to capture a moment.
I handwrite much more than I used to and it’s such a precious space. The increase in handwriting has been a fascinating byproduct of the job. I think it’s because I need to find myself in the rush of a 7 meeting day.
I began to reflect on journalling because one of my handwritten journals is coming to an end. I’m always sad. I’m losing a familar friend and I hate the starting of something new, those first fresh pages speak of no life lived. I often leave the first page blank. A space for God to be God. And a way of beginning, of saying I’ve simply started.
This finished journal will be filed, along with others. As I come to year’s end or to an annual performance review, I will pull out my journal and read through the year. I will begin to catch patterns I’d not seen before. It helps give shape to my becoming, to the work of God in the hard places of life.
I journal religiously twice, a paired set of spiritual practices. But what is really interesting is that I have written this here – digitally – not there – in the handwritten journal.
Sunday, August 04, 2013
a dynamic formation for ministry
Digital artist, Luca Agnani, takes Van Gogh’s paintings and brings them to digital life. He uses a mix of digital light and shadowing plus 3-d mapping, to provide a whole new way of viewing life.
It reminds me that life is dynamic rather than static. It is easy to think of life, of faith, of theology, of Scripture, as a snapshot, a moment frozen in time. The reality is that life is always about movement – the child running to the father, the sea a fluid wave movement, the streets full of people on the move.
Tomorrow, I am introducing a change to the candidate formation process at Uniting College. We will begin an exploration of practices, framed around a missional spirituality, and enhanced by storytelling – “the stories that you swap with other travellers” – about how these practices take shape in our lives.
So we’ve spent a lot of time as a team thinking about why we might do this.
Ministry formation could never prepare me for every situation I would find in life. Nor should it. Life is simply too fluid, too dynamic, to evolving, to ever make that possible.
Christian faith is dynamic – the practice of being sent, of prayer, of unforced rythyms of grace – are never static, but are always moving, shaped by those who walk toward us and away from us, those we welcome and those we let go, our experiences as we approach Scripture. Practices are our friends in this dynamic of life.
For those interested, the thirteen Van Gogh paintings are:
1. Fishing Boats on the Beach
2. Langlois Bridge at Arles, The
3. Farmhouse in Provence
4. White House at Night, The
5. Still Life
6. Evening The Watch (after Millet)
7. View of Saintes-Maries
9. Factories at Asnieres Seen
10. White House at Night, The
12. First Steps (after Millet)
Monday, July 29, 2013
Why the Leap of faith is a myth
Where do great ideas come from? Research indicates it never comes a golden bullet, an inspired leap of faith. Vera John-Steiner interviewed over 70 living creative geniuses. She also analyzed the notebooks of 50 dead ones (including Tolstoy, Einstein, etc.) to look at their work habits.
She even planned to title her book “The Leap” because it would be about those giant flashes of inspiration that led to breakthrough ideas.
But she was completely wrong.
Eureka! moments turned out to be a myth.
There was no inspiration moment where a fully formed answer arrived.
Strokes of genius happened over time.
A great idea comes into the world by drips and drabs, false starts, and rough sketches. (From here)
Instead, creative inspiration involves writing down ideas as early as possible, keeping everything, giving things time and being willing to wrestle with ideas and search for clarity. And the refusal to expect that inspiration will deliver a finished product.
Perhaps the only golden bullet is buying a notebook/keeping a blog ie finding some place to store your work product.
Monday, July 22, 2013
ikea worship inspirations
I love wandering Ikea. (I’ve blogged about this before – Confessions: the place of Ikea in worship and teaching). I invariably, as I wander Ikea, come away with a few ideas for worship, inspired by the fusion of good design with customer sensitivity all fused with the DIY ethic
Here are yesterdays offerings after a Sunday shop:
First, a world map table. It is hard to see, because overhead lighting is reflected in the glass. But it is a world map, etched in a glass table. This has got all sorts of possibilities. For example communion table, with elements placed “for the world.” Or a prayer station, in which people post prayers for the world on the table. Or with a bit of experimentation, it might well be that some pens might be able to write on glass and be washed off. So people could write their prayers on the table.
Second, pop up stations. These are advertised in the children’s section. They are made of cardboard, so can be decorated in all sorts of way. Aesthetically, they would make a great set of stations, all identical, yet all able to be named differently.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Colour my faith
Olive Fleming Drane posted a delightful picture, of the new floor in Glasgow’s new Paperchase.
It’s a delightful reminder of the power and place of colour. And the implications for our engagement with Christian faith.
Like “colour divina.” Imagine hearing the same Bible text, read slowly, read repeatedly. And each time, standing in a different colour. Where is purple in the text? Where is the colour red? Where do we see green?
Imagine different stations, placed on different coloured mats. Confession on red, benediction on green, hearing the Scriptures in purple.
At Opawa, for a period of time, part of the call to worship included the invitation:
Words of introduction: We all come from different weeks; good and bad, busy and slow, major and minor. What colour would describe your emotions and experiences this week?
Action: In baskets at various places around the auditorium are a wide range of colours. Each colour square has a hot dot fixed to the back. As we gather as a community in worship this morning I invite you
a) choose a colour square that says something about your week.
b) peel the backing paper of the hot dot on the back and place your colour on the cross.
You can do this at any time before the service.
Prayer: We will start our service with the following prayer
Leader: Arriving, we bring our current reality.
All: The good and the bad. The busy and the slow. The major and the minor.
Leader: We dare to believe that God is among us.
All: Among us as one who listens, holds, loves, heals, guides.
Leader: We dare to believe that we are safe here.
All: Safe among friends journeying together. Journeying to a deeper knowledge of, love for and service with God. In Jesus name. Amen.
(full post here)
For more on the place of colour in Christian faith, see
Sunday, March 03, 2013
nurturing the arts: arrival of complete boxed set
A thoroughly unexpected, thoroughly wonderful surprise this week, with the arrival of the complete boxed set of CS Arts magazines.
The vision of Chrysalis Seed was to ‘generate multiplying groups of artists in a subculture centred in Jesus’. The mission was to ‘equip artists to integrate their art and faith, and to reconcile art and faith communities’. For 14 years it existed as a Trust, with a principal mechanism including a magazine CS Arts.
Which grew, from 4 pages, to 52 pages, from black and white, to colour. It covered a wonderful array of topics, interviews with artists and curators, reviews, themed essays (including a few film reviews I wrote). It was free, always distributed widely, including to commercial galleries and studios. It drew praise and gained some very high quality interviews.
The focus was creating conversations with the art world, not meeting a Christian sub-culture and so it was always incredibly classy, in content, design and paper. The decision to make it a boxed set simply underlines the class, drawing attention to entire collection and the search for quality.
Looking through the editions, realising the growth, reading the range of topics, is struck me as a fascinating attempt at contextualisation – to have a conversation with a key area of culture. It would make an interesting piece of contemporary contextual research, to explore the themes over the time period, the sources it dialogued with, the way it sought to speak of Christ.
The Trust disbanded in 2010. Having started a conversation, it wanted to shift it from a centralised office with a magazine, to a grassroots set of networks. This now includes
- Four groups of Christian artists in Waikanae, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill.
- A social network of over 600 artists and supporters.
- A comprehensive library of art and faith materials available nationally to artists and students through Knox College, Dunedin Christian artists and activists networking throughout New Zealand.
- Regional gatherings of artists.
- All published CS Arts magazines available online (but not boxed:))
- A monthly prayer newsletter for artists, groups and arts institutions.
- Artists’ social network: www.csartspace.org.nz
- An online community where artists and supporters of the visual arts meet and chat online, share ideas, news and information.
They have a forum here, a website here. All the magazines archived here. But not as a complete boxed set, because that will sit pride of place in my office! And maybe one day a research article. But not this sabbatical!
Monday, February 18, 2013
The Testament of Mary: a Lenten resource
I’ve really enjoyed Colin Toibin’s, The Testament of Mary. It’s an imaginative exploration of Mary, with a strong emphasis on a mother’s bewilderment as her son seems to go willing to his death. It’s by no means “orthodox” in theology, but it raises plenty of good questions about the motives of those around Jesus, including the disciples. It certainly makes sense of the fear and helplessness that would be have been faced by a country ruled by an invading army (the Romans) and thus the profound political disturbance that was part of the mission of Jesus.
It’s a small book, easily read in an afternoon.
It’s a literary book and Toibin is a beautiful writer, with a deft insight into the darkness of being human and the pain of loss. It’s no easy feat for a writer to cross genders, and to carry off a book about a figure as important to human history as Mary is ambitious.
While I don’t agree with all the theology, it’s a book that I’d want to read in the weeks leading up to Easter, as it strips bare the pain and politics of the road to Gethsemane. It thus stands as a creative resource for Easter Friday preachers and worship leaders.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Faith in the midst of violence: the La Faruk Madonna
In a side room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, is placed the La Faruk Madonna. At first glance, it looks your standard religious fare, three paintings, an angel either side of a Madonna.
But the story behind the paintings is extraordinary, for they are painted on old flour bags in the middle of World War 2. The artist, Giuseppe Baldan, was by a prisoner of war. Hence the backdrop behind the angels and the Madonna is a prisoner of war camp, including the prison fence, the Sudanese desert, a washing line and the huts that held prisoners.
The story is that Italian prisoners of war, captured by the British in North Africa, sought permission in the camp to build a chapel. A chapel needs decoration and so the La Faruk Madonna was painted, an aid for prayer, a source of hope.
As the war ended, the paintings were saved from the camp and were given to the British commander for safe keeping. It was a mark of respect for the humane way he had treated the prisoners and honoured the art.
It is both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in the creativity of humans, even in bleak times. Disturbing in that here were British and Italians worshipping the same God, yet finding ways to kill each other. What did the British think as they saw the angels being painted and as they watched the prisoners turn up for worship week by week, as they heard the prayers to “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
creative resource: British Library Illuminated Manuscripts now online
The British Library has just put online their illuminated manuscripts, both images and information. Since the Library holds one the richest collections of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the world, this is a rich resource.
Since I’m currently working on the Emmaus Road, a search produced 8 images. Here is one from a Psalter, England, Central (Oxford); 1st quarter of the 13th century, before 1220. (I love how the legs are disappearing up, a reference perhaps to Ascension. Also love the fish on the table, a creative addition to the normal bread/eucharistic references).
This is one of 56 images in the Psalter. Imagine a Bible with 56 coloured images, hand crafted. Such a contrast to the text only versions that currently dominate the market! That surely says something about creativity and value and provides food for current Bible reading practices. (For more of my reflections on this theme, see faith shaped by art not words)
By contrast, here is one from Bruges, Belgium, in the 1400s, where we were a few weeks ago.
Of even more interest/usefulness is their public domain copyright policy –
The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts content is now available for download and reuse. Although still technically in copyright in the UK (and a number of other common law territories) the images are being made available under a Public Domain Mark* which indicates that there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication or sharing of the content available from the site.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
Colouring a contemporary stations of the cross
Amid the ancient history of Saint Salvador Cathedral, Brugge, is a contemporary stations of the cross. Beautifully arranged in a side chapel, it is one, of very few signs, that this faith might be living.
A project by Dutch artist, Jac Bisschops, between 2008 and 2010, he aimed to communicate the essential message of each Station of the Cross. His aim is contemplation, a seeking for simplicity, harmony and clarity. The hubris of the cathedral was thus a thoroughly fitting backdrop.
A feature is the limited palette, five colours
- blue for infinity
- brown for transitory earth
- black for darkness
- white for purity
- gold for resurrection
Each base colour is used three times. Layering is used to provide a rich intensity of colour.
Another feature is the interplay of horizontal and vertical lines. In this sense, it has echoes of New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon and his stations of the cross (although McCahonh uses more of a two colour palette).
Together, simple palette, straight lines, rich layers, it actually works. I find myself slowing, pausing. In the concentrating, I find an inviting clarity, a simplicity that reminds me of life’s essence, the reality of Easter. (For those interested, a YouTube video, which includes every piece is here.)
Saturday, December 08, 2012
these walls will talk
One of the advantages of living in a house renovation is some space to play. Over the last few months, in order to try to gain even a tiny bit of work/life balance, I’ve been knocking off work early every Monday, to spend time with one of the family.
Together we’ve been working on a few projects. This is one of them -
- chalk paint as a background, words painted using my icon paints, etched via cut lettering from a local craft shop.
The plan is to use chalk, to write on the walls the things we’re glad of, and what we’re hoping for. It’s part of what we need to do as a family, to keep a focus on gratitude and hope.
Then, when the renovation project eventually gets to this room, we’ll simply paint over the top of “gratitude” and “hope”, leaving our family prayers permanently part of the house walls. It will probably need one more coat than normal. But hey – at least these walls will talk.
Friday, December 07, 2012
creating the church of tomorrow
Twice in the last few weeks, a prayer by Oscar Romero has come my way. Romero was a Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador, assassinated on 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.
God of hope,
Help us to step back and take the long view.
Remind us that what we do in our lifetime
is only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is your work..
Nothing we do is complete, which is only a way of saying that your realm always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No one program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals includes everything.
Help us remember what we really are about:
we plant seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need future development.
We provide yeast that produces
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything.
Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.
It may seem incomplete, but it is really a beginning,
a step along the way.
Our efforts provide an opportunity
for your grace to enter and do the rest.
You are the master builder, and we work with you.
We may never see the end results that are known to you.
Even so, we are prophets of a future
that holds your promise.
Given the way the prayer has found me, it seemed appropriate that it become the devotional for our team retreat on Thursday. I provided two ways to respond. One was to pray by planting a seed of petition. The other was to pray by watering as thanks. Outside (because dirt and water don’t go with carpet), I had placed a seed tray and a pot of colour from home.
Inside, we said the prayer together, a different person taking a phrase each. We then sat with the prayer in silence for 5 minutes. I then invited folk to move outside. And to either plant a seed “we plant seeds that will one day grow” or to water the pot “We water seeds already planted.” We then concluded by again saying the prayer together, again a different person taking a phrase each.
The focus of the retreat day was strategic planning and it was just lovely to begin the day watering and planting, reminding each other that- “We cannot do everything. Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.” (To end the day, we shared communion and had a party. But that’s another post).
Monday, October 22, 2012
fascinating art image ecological Christ, Colossians 1
I saw this on Facebook and have no idea of the original source, nor the artist’s intent. But to me it seemed a fascinating expression – in the colours of the rainbow, the dolphins, so often a sign of ecological harmony, rising – of Colossians 1:18-20 – the ecological Christ.
all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross