Advent Reflection 6: Don’t be afraid of the light

Advent Reflection 6: Don’t be afraid of the light

From Bruegel and Botticelli to Fra Angelico and Giorgione, I’m writing a series of devotions based on the greatest Christmas art of all time. Each devotion includes a picture, a Bible reading, a reflection and a prayer. Take your time. Look deeply. Breathe. Relax. Be with God. 6 ANNUNCIATION TO THE SHEPHERDS   Artwork:  Annunciation to the Shepherds – Taddeo Gaddi, Church of Santa Croce, Florence Reading:  Luke 2:8-15 Reflection: It’s the light that gets me. Look again at this picture, at the way the figures are lit. It’s quite remarkable really. It’s still evening. We can see that from the sliver of night sky beyond the brow of the hill. But the hill itself and the figures on it are bleached by a piercing light that bathes the sleepy shepherds and their flock. It’s as if the whole scene is being washed clean in light. Pure light. How extraordinary that this effect is created by paint and a brush. The artist Taddeo Gaddi is hardly known at all these days. In fact, most bios only discuss him with reference to his much more famous teacher, the grand master, Giotto. He’s usually referred to as “the pupil of…” or “a follower of…” One entry describes him as, “A capable artist, although lacking his teacher’s comprehensive aesthetic vision.” Ouch. But he

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 5: That radiant place between worship and intimacy

Advent Reflection 5: That radiant place between worship and intimacy

This Advent, I’m writing a series of devotions, based on ten of the most beautiful paintings of the Christmas story ever created. Take some time to look carefully at the painting above. Read the Bible text. Read the reflection. Recite the prayer. 5.  THE BIRTH OF CHRIST   Artwork:  The Nativity – Federico Barocci, Prado museum, Madrid Reading: Luke 2:6-7 Reflection: You’ve looked at a thousand nativity scenes in your life, right? They range from the sickly, sentimental kind seen on greeting cards through to the melodramatic iconography of Catholic religious art. But not many are as intimate or as tender as Federico Barocci’s depiction of Mary and her newborn infant. She kneels, her hands outstretched and open, as if in the posture of worship. But at the same time her face shines like a young mother full to overflowing with love for her child. She adores her boy. And the child gazes back. In the otherwise darkened room, light plays across both their faces. The radiant child illuminates the exquisitely loving face of Mary, the whole composition emphasizing their mutual bond. Barocci was a sensitive soul. Deeply religious, often unwell, emotional but quite playful. As an expression of his eccentricity, in many of his religious paintings he included cats. Yep, cats. Here are two of his paintings of the

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 4: Christ the Overlooked

Advent Reflection 4: Christ the Overlooked

Look carefully at the painting. It’s one of history’s truly great pieces of Christmas-related art. Then read the Bible passage that inspired it. Then read my devotional reflection. Finally, there’s a prayer you can recite at the end. 4.  ARRIVAL IN BETHLEHEM   Artwork:  The Census at Bethlehem – Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels Reading: Luke 2:1-4 Reflection: Pieter Bruegel the Elder loved to paint peasants. Although a relatively well-off artist, he was known to dress in peasant clothing and surreptitiously mingle among the poor at their weddings and other social events in order to more accurately depict their day to day lives. For this he received the nickname “Bruegel the Peasant”. His pictures of the rituals of village life in his native Belgium are earthy and unsentimental. But he painted the ordinariness of peasant culture – including farming scenes, hunts, feasts and festivals, dances and games – in vivid and touching detail. He seemed to love them. Typically, then, for his depiction of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem, he contemporizes the scene and sets it in a frozen Belgian streetscape. Mary and Joseph are just two more poor peasants trudging through the freezing air to line up for the ruthlessly imposed census. Finding them in this picture isn’t easy. They are

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 3: The Sacrament of Being Helpful

Advent Reflection 3: The Sacrament of Being Helpful

Look carefully at the painting. It’s one of history’s truly great pieces of Christmas-related art. Then read the Bible passage that inspired it. Then read my devotional reflection. Finally, there’s a prayer you can recite at the end. 3.  THE JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM   Artwork:  Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem (Portinari Altarpiece) – Hugo van der Goes, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Reading: Luke 2:1-5 Reflection: On the road to Bethlehem, Joseph gently assists the pregnant Mary down a steep incline. She has left the donkey, presumably because it would be too perilous to ride down such a slope. Often portrayed in the background or ineffectually to one side, Joseph is presented to us here as a gallant and caring partner to Mary. One hand on her arm. The other guiding her from behind. He’s being a typically helpful partner. Hugo van der Goes’ depiction of their journey appears in the background of a much larger three-paneled work (that dome in the bottom left corner is the bald head of St Anthony, depicted in the foreground). The full Portinari Altarpiece is an extravagant depiction of the nativity, including the adoration of the angels and the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, various patron saints (including the aforementioned bald Anthony), and even a portrait of Van der Goes’ patron and his family. That’s

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 2: Don’t screw this up, God

Advent Reflection 2: Don’t screw this up, God

This Advent, I’m writing a series of devotions, based on ten of the most gorgeous paintings of the Christmas story ever created. From Bruegel and Botticelli to Fra Angelico and Giorgione. Look carefully at the painting. Read the Bible text. Read the reflection. Recite the prayer. Breathe.   2  THE ANGEL APPEARS TO JOSEPH   Artwork:  The Dream of St Joseph – Philippe de Champaigne, National Gallery, London Reading:  Matthew 1:18-25 Reflection: The French Baroque painter Champaigne is one of very few artists to bother depicting Joseph’s story, but he does so in an unlikely way. He manages to make a painting of Joseph be almost entirely about Mary. Note the way the arrangement of the sleeping Joseph and his angelic visitor create a sideways V shape that actually accentuates Mary’s presence between them. Note also the angel’s sign language. One finger pointed to heaven. The other to Mary. As if indicating the supernatural link between them. As if to say, “She belongs to God now.” And note Mary’s posture. She waits. Her arms are folded across her chest, like she’s holding herself together. And she’s focused on the angel. It’s as if she can see right into Joseph’s dreams. She knows that everything hinges on the angel getting this right. Should Joseph reject her, forcing her back to her father’s home

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 1: Like a kick in the guts

Advent Reflection 1: Like a kick in the guts

I will be posting two Advent reflections each week this season. They will each be based on one of the 10 greatest paintings of the Christmas story ever produced.  I trust you find them life-giving and hope-enlarging. Look carefully at the painting above. Examine every section. Explore the artist’s design. What do you see? Now read the Bible text. Then read my reflection below. Each reflection will end with a beautiful prayer for you to recite.   1 THE ANNUNCIATION   Artwork: The Annunciation – Fra Angelico, Convent of San Marco, Florence Reading: Luke 1:26-38 Reflection: Look at Mary. Look closely at her. She looks exquisite. Her hands folded across her belly. Her figure slightly bent. Her face passive and staring. She looks like she’s in shock, as if she’s just been hit by something in the very center of her being. Like she’s been kicked in the guts. The painter, Fra Angelico, a Florentine monk, depicts Mary as if she has conceived her child at the exact moment the angel’s word is spoken. Just as the world was created by God’s spoken word in Genesis, so the Incarnation is initiated by the angel’s word. The word gives life. The virgin is with child. The Christ is coming. And Mary receives it all exactly the way we should all receive this revelation:

View Full Post

;

Give thanks for the kindness of strangers

Give thanks for the kindness of strangers

My mother died last week. She was 85 years old and frail. We’d watched her slowly diminish over recent years, like a flame tapering ever smaller. On her last day, that flame barely flickered at all until at the very end it gently extinguished itself. It was peaceful and natural, and she was surrounded by those who loved her. One of the nurses who was present told me it was a “good death”. I spent her last day with her, sitting on her bed or beside her, telling her she wasn’t alone, that we were there and that we wouldn’t leave until she was gone. She wouldn’t have to make that transition alone. At one point, I was alone with her for several hours, speaking to her, praying for her, reciting Scripture and singing hymns. During that time a nurse’s aid knocked on the door and entered reverently. She whispered that she was finishing her shift and wanted to say goodbye. Everyone knew my mother wouldn’t make it through the night. I’d met her before and seen her often on my visits to my mother’s nursing home. She’d delivered my mother’s meals or cleaned her bathroom. Her name was Naomi. She sat on my mother’s bed and took her head in her hands and kissed her gently on her cheek.

View Full Post

;

Why you shouldn’t use Romans 13 to quell political dissent

Why you shouldn’t use Romans 13 to quell political dissent

I’ve been involved in my fair share of public demonstrations. I’ve protested against my government’s decisions on a number of issues. I’ve marched against war and in favor of Aboriginal reconciliation, climate change policy and nuclear disarmament. I’ve been arrested for refusing to vacate the Prime Minister’s office while praying for asylum seekers. I’m a citizen of a modern liberal democracy and I have no compunction about expressing my resistance to my elected government’s policies. And yet, at various points, I’ve had well-meaning Christian friends quote Romans 13 to me and tell me I should be acquiescent to those God puts in authority over me. You can read the whole chapter here, but this is how it begins, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Rom 13:1) Paul, the writer of Romans, then goes on to commend the church not to stir up trouble against their rulers. In fact, he’s quite adamant about it, compelling them, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” (Rom 13:3) In other

View Full Post

;

7 Broken Men: John Howard Yoder

7 Broken Men: John Howard Yoder

We come to the last of our 7 Broken Men and I’m going to take a somewhat more serious tone with this one. Recent blog posts in this series have been presented with a lighter touch as we’ve noted the way our broken men have been used by God for the greater good. And while some of them did inflict suffering on others, their offences were long ago, making it easier to wave off the excesses of those trapped in the long distant past. But now we come to the most troubling entry in our series, John Howard Yoder. He has hurt people. Many people. All of them women, in fact.   And he did so relatively recently. Many of Yoder’s victims are still with us, although he isn’t. God certainly used him. Powerfully. He is one of the primary thought leaders behind the modern Anabaptist movement. His teaching on the church, social justice and pacifism, peacemaking and capital punishment have filtered into both the mainstream evangelical and progressive evangelical movements. True to his Mennonite roots, Yoder called on the church to resist the temptation to try to take over politics and society (remember, this was the era of the Christian Coalition). Instead, he argued, the primary responsibility of Christians is faithful presence, ie. “to be the church.” That meant that the church’s role was to

View Full Post

;

7 Broken Men: Ignatius of Loyola

7 Broken Men: Ignatius of Loyola

So far (if you’ve been following along) we’ve discovered that some of the greatest movements of Christianity – Calvinism, Pentecostalism, the Great Century of missions, the Jesus Revolution, and the Australian Baptist church – were all launched by broken men. Welcome to the sixth of our 7 Broken Men, at the raffish Spanish courtier, Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola, better known as St Ignatius of Loyola. Iñigo de Loyola was actually physically broken. A French cannonball had shattered his leg while he was defending the fortress town of Pamplona in 1521. The broken leg was not properly set, leaving the protruding bone to create an ugly lump under the skin. Iñigo was vain. He was also quite the ladies’ man. So he insisted on having the leg re-broken and re-set. Without anesthetic, of course. The injured leg ended up shorter than the other, so the once-dashing Iñigo limped for the rest of his life. That was no small thing for Iñigo. He had grown up in the castle of Loyola, the 13th child of Don Beltrán Yañez de Oñaz y Loyola, a brash, free-spirited womanizer who had fathered several children by other women. Iñigo’s grandfather was an even more shadowy character, regularly in conflict with the crown. Nonetheless, they were landed gentry and could get away with bad behavior.

View Full Post

;

Pin It on Pinterest