Seeing Prayer - Learning to look into The heart of God
A series on how art helps us to understand the love of God in our lives by Revd Jean Lamb
Trees are significant fellow creatures which are mentioned in the Bible, most notably at the beginning when God describes the Trees of Life and Knowledge to Adam and Eve and at the end in the Book of Revelation when an avenue of fruitful trees are to give monthly to all the peoples of the nations for healing. Every Easter we remember that Jesus died on a tree: 1 Peter 2.24 ‘Jesus bore our sins on the Tree’. But the virtues of trees are mentioned at significant points in the Old Testament. In the Book of Genesis Abram makes sacrifice to the Lord by the Oaks of Mamre; the wood must have been a popular glade of peace and beauty where the ancient peoples listened to the Voice of God and offered a burnt offering of thanks to the God of all Creation. When Ezekiel describes the new Temple he mentions the two Olive trees which stand as a witness to God’s truth in the House of God. In Psalm 52 the author describes himself as ‘a green olive tree in the House of God....who proclaims the Name of God before the congregation’. Jeremiah describes a person who trusts in the Lord like a tree who is able to be steady in the tough times since their roots grow deep in the earth and whose leaves watch readily for the rains, Jeremiah 17.7-8; a person trustful of the Lord is ‘like a tree planted by water, that sends out its shoots by the stream, and does not fear when the heat comes for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought for it does not cease to bear fruit’.
We are to be like the trees. Our roots must grow deep into the soil of the Word of God. When one turns the rich soil new things are always discovered. The roots of a tree are always growing and exploring the food of the soil which brings life to its branches above.
In Four Trees, the trees point up to the heavens and are open to the blessings of God. The stream of God’s love, through the Holy Spirit, pours down the top of the trees into their body. The bark of the trees hold grains of incense by which to praise the Name of the Lord.
The trees are protected with the healing Wind of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus sets out on his mission he goes into a synagogue and quotes from the Book of Isaiah, chapter 61, verses 1-2, where he proclaims that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. Verse 3 continues to say that through the gifts of God, the People of the Lord shall be called ‘oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord’. May God grant that we may be planted to grow by the stream which flowed from the side of Jesus. Amen
My exhibition SEED:BLOOD in Southwell Minster through the month of February will now be up and running. If I didn’t see you at the opening then please do pop along to see the exhibition. I am hoping to be there regularly, provisionally on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays giving talks on the work at 11am and 2pm.
Where does this strange title come from? It comes from a painting which I started over four years ago when my son William left to go to College at the age of eighteen. From a maternal perspective I wanted to remember his presence in the house which I would very much miss; so I literally drew round his body. I wanted to say something about offering, about that mental process parents have to undergo as they say thank you to God for the joy and privilege of bringing up children and the realization that they become ones own offering to the world, whichever way they turn out!
So William is right on the edge of the canvas about to step out into the world, but he is also holding his hands open in readiness for the adventure.
I then painted hawthorn leaves over his body, the tree which most characterizes the English countryside; in Spring with abundant white blossom and in autumn with ripe berries, which are edible and which make a distinctively rich jelly. Thereafter I sewed some ripe berries onto the canvas and poured the varnish over to preserve them. The Union Jack was added, as Great Britain staged the Olympics, winning one third of the gold medals and through Andy Murray, Wimbledon. As a nation we all felt so proud to be British. But behind the image of the young man lies a shadow of an older man, who will take fatal decisions about the lives of other young men.
This then is my signature painting for the Exhibition which remembers the sacriﬁce which many have taken over the last century in the cause of protecting the weak and vulnerable from the strong, deadly and exploitative.
As I write the picture is a little more developed than this photograph
shows, but please come and see for yourself whether I have completed the work and tell me what you think.
Holy Father, you weave a pattern of light through our lives,
bless us as we offer ourselves to you and each other. Amen
Processional Cross - other side
Can you remember back to the March Magazine when I spoke about the Bristol Processional Cross that I carved in elm wood. I showed you one side of the double sided cross which was appropriate for Lent and Holy Week. The other side shows the Third Person of the Holy Trinity in the form of a hovering dove. Bristol Cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The understanding that God is in three Persons and yet One Entity is elucidated for us by careful reading of the Bible, see in particular Genesis 1, when God says ‘Let us make man in our image’, Proverbs 8 when Wisdom speaks about being with God when the world was being made and all of the Gospel of John, especially when the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus at his baptism, when Jesus talks about his relationship to his Father, ‘I and the Father are one’, and when Jesus asks the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit after his resurrection and before his ascension. It follows therefore that the Holy Spirit is another part of God and not another human being. The disciples at Pentecost were transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, able to speak in other languages, making themselves clearly understood. Grasping the significance of the Trinity can significantly enhance our faith as we allow ourselves to become immersed into the mystery of God. This is what sets us apart from other travellers on the journey of spiritual discovery and especially from the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam.
At the base of the processional cross I have carved the Jewish Menorah which can be seen in every Synagogue and is a symbol of the Jewish faith.
The seven branches signify the seven days of creation. The branches are that of the almond tree as specified by God to Moses for decorative use in the Temple and represents the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Each of the seven branches are lit to bring glory to God the Creator. The Christian symbol of the Cross, again uses the figuration of the tree, sawn down and used by cruel humanity for the death of Jesus, yet which also carries the Body of Christ like a Mother. Lord God we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit which has been given to us by your Son Jesus. May she fill us with creative power and intellectual ability to comprehend your Presence in our lives. Amen.
St. Stephen's, Oxford
In the Summer of 1982 I stayed on after the end of term at St Stephen’s House to take advantage of my attic studio and complete this painting which was a view from my room window. St Stephen’s House is a High Church/Tractarianism Theological College on the east side of Oxford, situated in what was once the monastery of The Society of St John the Evangelist, also known as the Cowley Fathers, a name derived from the area of Oxford where the Fathers did their work. Between 1981-82 I had a room directly over the walkway of the Cloisters which formed a quadrant, leading to the east side of St John’s Finley Road, a beautiful Church designed by Bodley. At the time the church buildings were very tatty and rundown. I prayed, ‘Lord make this place alive and beautiful and full of art’. Within the stained glass windows I set a bouquet of joy. Around the Church the trails of birds swoop and dive up into the clouds and down into the nests of the cloisters: in and out through the huge Mulberry Tree, a symbol of fruitfulness and strength. On the wall was a carved crucifix in stone. It was as if Jesus hung there waiting for all of this to take on new life.
As I looked out of my window my eyes looked at Jesus. Through my eyes Jesus came into my Room. He is the Person in my Room, larger than life.
My prayer for St Stephen’s House and for St John’s Iffley Road was answered. The Church has received central funding to make it a centre for music, theatre and art as well as remaining a beautiful Church for worship. The most radical decision was to take up the wooden tiled floor and install underfloor heating and then replace the tiles, cleaned. The atmosphere is totally transformed.
Dear Lord Jesus,
We thank you for the gift of summer when we can relax and grow reminding ourselves of our Being before you. Help our minds to meander, our bodies to grow strong and our hearts to hope in the beauty of this season. Amen
At the end of the month of May, on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi. All of the great festivals of the Christian calendar are over, beginning with Advent, then with Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, and ending with the Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays. Corpus Christi, literally translated from the Latin meaning the Body of Christ, seems to put a final full stop to these feasts. The liturgy makes an important point, that in all of our liturgies of the previous six months we are informing our souls about our communion with the Divine; specifically when we partake of Holy Communion and receive the Body and Blood of Christ. In the ancient rite the consecrated Body of Christ/communion wafer is placed in a monstrance or special vessel which reveals the Body to the faithful held high and walked around the church in a figure eight, to incense and hymns praising our God for the life of Jesus. The church is decked with white flowers from the hedgerow to bring a powerful perfume to the atmosphere of the church. It is like the wedding of the Church with Christ.
My sculpture ‘Christus’ was made at a time when I was exploring the fragmentation of the Body of Christ visually at the Eucharist. The priest holds up the whole Host at the end of the prayer of consecration before breaking it on the paten (or plate) for consumption by the faithful. We therefore partake literally every Sunday in the brokenness of Christ. The Host is fragmented, in order to make us whole. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we lay before the Son of God the parts of our body which are in discomfort or broken, be it our mind, our soul or our flesh. Seeing the broken Host on the paten , shows us that God is also broken by his continued relationship with us. We thank God especially at Easter because God gave us a surprising answer to human frailty in the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb.
Often in my European wanderings I would come across a shattered Christ, whose wooden arms have been lost by the passage of time.
In the ‘Christus’ here, the figure even without arms, moves in ecstasy to the Father in heaven.
Loving, holy and mysterious Jesus,
Thank you for making me whole
In the Eucharist.
I give you my arms
To make others whole. Amen.
In 2011 I was very happily working in Colwick Parish Church with Fr Robert Chapman. He loved to laugh and was always finding funny things to laugh at with the strange situations that we find ourselves in. It was a joy to join him in this laughter and sheer praise of Creation and our Creator God. Laughter takes us out of ourselves, it prohibits us taking ourselves too seriously. Most importantly one can only laugh when one has a perspective on how things work, and knowing how they should work, be able to laugh when things go wrong. Laughter is infectious and the whole of Colwick Church bubbled over with this wonderful joy and sense that life was really great to be living together under Christ. He saw that the greatest vehicles of Christ’s love were the children and so he encouraged all the young children to participate in the Eucharistic gathering; two year olds would carry up the Eucharistic offerings with the help of their parents. Young children would read the lessons and serve. Young people in their 20s were on the PCC; a teenager was the organist. A young mother became the treasurer. Young people are at the forefront of every part of God’s mission and so the Church continued to grow.
Watching all this before me was a complete revelation. Despite every setback beauty flourished through the hearts of God’s little children in the Church. On Easter day I also celebrated my 54th birthday. I was given a set of delicate orange roses which had been carefully cultivated and wrapped. In the afternoon I walked around Sneinton and picked some wilder flowers which the Easter sun had suddenly brought out. Then over the coming week I painted both sets of flowers together. Easter will never be so late again in my lifetime.
Loving God, You love all parts of Creation, The rough and the smooth, The wild and the cultivated, Young and old, Active and inactive; Help us all to celebrate the Easter praises together. Amen.
One sunny afternoon when I was deacon at St Stephen’s Church, my tidying duties were interrupted by a loud banging at the Church doors; a couple were on a pilgrimage to see the renowned beauty of the Bodley designed interior. It was 1998 and I had just completed a large sculpture of Mary and Jesus which the PCC had allowed me to show in front of the font. My sculpture came to the attention of the visitors, one of whom was the Precentor of Bristol Cathedral. Within weeks he asked me to consider making a processional cross for the cathedral which is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. In the picture you can see the cross attached to its base. When in use it is attached to a pole.
At the time I had a spare piece of elm, 2 inches thick, 16 inches wide and 32 inches long. Elm, as an English hardwood is relatively heavy, so there was a lot of carving out in order for the cross to be light enough for the task. The cross was to be double sided, with God the Father and his Son on one side and the Holy Spirit on the other. The shape of the cross is that of a deacon’s dalmatic, an embroidered vestment worn during the eucharistic celebration. Above Jesus’s head is a kind of heavenly medallion with the image of God the Father, who leans forward to place the crown of thorns upon his son’s head. By dying on the cross, Jesus assuages the wrath his Father has towards mankind. God allows his Son to experience all the consequences of our rebellion against him on the cross.
Towards the end of his life on the cross, Jesus asks his Father why he has been abandoned by him; has God himself become one of his persecutors? As Lent comes to a close in Holy Week, let us ask our Lord to help us to consider more deeply the mystical offering which the Father gives of his Son for our salvation and how we are to be engaged with this reciprocal relationship.
Lent is the spiritual axis of change in the life of the Christian. Even if one were to make the decision to completely ignore Lent, it is arguably so powerful that one would still be affected by what it means to other people around us. This is one reason why I feel it is always better to grasp the nettle of Lent head on and become involved in a project which helps me to meditate on the suffering of God in Jesus, as he lived and died amongst us, and of the sufferings in the world today. Some years ago I was given a small piece of wood by the mother of one of my daughter’s friends. It had been her uncles who had since gone blind and she thought it sad to be put onto the fire. The old man had worked with abstract shapes after the Modernist tradition. To begin he had sawn the lump of sycamore in two and then glued two ends together to form a rudimentary ‘S’ shape. So this chunk lay in my workshop for many months until one day I glanced up at it to see in it through my minds eye, this head, lying as if on the ground with a shoulder curved around, as though he had been killed in action. The work evolved quickly thereafter, ready to show at a Sabbatical Exhibition which was held in Harston Parish Church in June 2010. I placed this little head on a diametrically sawn through piece of timber next to the skeleton of a plum tree, which I had also carved to reveal its mysterious hollowed interior. This was my image for Lent 2010 of Fallen Man.
Lent reminds us why we need Jesus, as we see the fall of Adam within ourselves. That which we want to do, we do not do, and that which we do not want, we do, says the Apostle St Paul, as he bemoaned the state of his soul. Taking time to contemplate our human condition during this set-aside time each year, yields cathartic consequences which refresh the spirit for the coming year. Last November I was asked to lead All Hallows Remembrance Sunday Service. The Church was packed full with young service men and women who had come to pay tribute to their colleagues who were on the front line somewhere in the world today, or who had not returned. Their belief in service for their country fellow men and women moved me deeply: they are laying down their lives for others even as Jesus lay down his life for us. Jesus’s ministry began in the desert of self examination. When we can take the time to do the same, we will harvest many benefits for ministry in and beyond the Church ourselves, and those we love and work amongst.
Flight Into Egypt
How beautiful Christmas is; a festival of family light in the middle of the season’s absence of light; we bask in the smiling faces of each other, in thankfulness for the precious gifts that we give and receive over the days of hibernation. I hope and pray that you have experienced a wonderful Christmas with the Gedling Church, singing and praising God for his gift of Jesus, as well as with your families. The rest is so important and we thank God for that too.Then January begins it’s winter quest to break down our defenses. After the birth of Jesus, it is not long before the children of God are literally battered by the forces of evil again as Herod takes his revenge on the baby boys of Bethlehem. And Joseph being warned in a dream by the Angel Gabriel, takes his young wife together with the infant Jesus to escape into Egypt to bide time until the danger is over, about two years.
After the death of one of my parent’s old friends in Boston, his widow gave me a worm eaten piece of walnut which had been on the woodstore awaiting a project. Gordon spent his retirement in his woodwork shed at the bottom of his garden, turning bowls and constructing crosses to sell in the Boston Stump gift shop. The leftover log had come from Threekingham where Gordon had grown up as a boy, close to Billingborough where his wife Jean had grown up, both villages in the fens of Lincolnshire. Once I had carved off the woodworm holes this image suggested itself to me. Father Joseph raises his hand to guide the willing ass, bearing its precious load, through the deserts to a foreign land, not knowing where they would stay in Egypt. His hand outstretched, imitates that of the generous angel acting out the purposes of God to bring the Light of Christ, to our exiled world. Between the Angel and Joseph, and within the protective arms of his mother Mary, nestles the infant Jesus. Sometimes we just have to rest in the loving Arms of God when we are shaken by forces beyond our control and see how we are guided. Blessing for a peaceful New Year.
Copies of Flight into Egypt can be purchased from Jean Lamb for £200. Profits to All Hallows Church
Christmas is the time for new beginnings, right in the heart of the darkness the dreariness is lanced by an invitation to do things differently, to see life in a new way. Even though technically the annunciation happened nine months earlier, 25th March, there will be many Christmas cards which will remember this scene, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and invites her to be come part of God’s plan for saving the world. In the Jerusalem Bible Gabriel exclaims to Mary, ‘Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son and name him Jesus’. Looking is the most critical part of learning and participating in God’s world. Art is the practical interpretation of that looking process. If we can understand how artists have interpreted the Christian revelation through the centuries then perhaps we can also learn how to interpret God’s presence in our time and what tasks we might have to do to fulfill God’s commission in our lives.
Here Gabriel comes and raises his hand to Mary and Mary also raises her hand to accept the greeting from the messenger of God. Gabriel kneels before this young woman and asks for her assent to what will happen, if she is willing. Mary’s right hand is held open to the new opportunity, and says ‘Yes, let it happen to me as you have said’. The shape of Gabriel is mirrored in the shape of Mary; the promises of Heaven are thus mirrored in their fulfillment on earth. Between them lies the space of Eternity, God’s pause to allow us to enter His Presence in our own time.
Copies of the Annunciation can be purchased from Jean Lamb at £100 per set. Profits to Gedling Parish Church.