the presence

He just wandered into my office to ask me how I was. Within minutes the names Chopin and Rachmaninoff filled our conversation and I was rediscovering Dvorak's New World Symphony at his behest. This octogenarian Swiss New Testament scholar knows his music...

A few nights later we were with Dieter and Elizabeth for dinner. They had Rachmaninoff playing in the background. Nice touch, I thought to myself. This time the conversation shifted to paintings. Goodness me, he had been featuring Lucas Cranach's classic in his module that very month - and I had blogged on it only last year. He showed me the way the fluttering shroud anticipated the resurrection and I showed him the girl, that little evangelist, looking at the viewer as if to invite them into the congregation to encounter Christ with the others.

Not bad for a chemistry and maths major within a whisker of his sixtieth year, don't you think?

Then, in that Indian way, I slapped my forehead with the palm of my hand as if to say, "silly me". I had completely forgotten to post a blog on a painting to which my friend, Mark Meynell, had introduced me, way back in May. I found it online again, showed it to Dieter and together our hearts were captivated, even while our wives were absorbed, in what was now a far less sacred part of the room, by photos on their phones of each other's grandchildren.

It is in St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh. I've been to Edinburgh - twice. The first visit lasted one day, for the sole purpose of recruiting a New Testament scholar, more Scottish than Swiss, who, at the time, was half the octogenarian age of my fellow-enthusiast at the table. The second visit also lasted one day, with one purpose being to walk up the Royal Mile, turn right near the top and wander through John Baillie's place. Now I must make a third visit to Edinburgh, also for a day, for the sole purpose of gazing at this painting.

Isn't it amazing?  Go on, gaze a little more. There is no rush. And don't go bothering wikipedia or google just yet, either. The beauty of art is that its interpretation is open-ended. Open up yourself and end up with a few of your own reflections...

Painted in 1910 by a man called Borthwick it is called simply The Presence. The bright, alluring lights of worship and eucharist, with the real presence of God they impart, are going on up the front of a dark, cavernous church. The congregation seems empty. A solitary person, so unworthy, yet so penitent, is unable to progress any further than the back of the back pew, kneeling there - just longing for that presence and the forgiveness, the comfort and the peace it brings. And yet unseen behind them, within reach, with hand outstretched, with face turned towards them, is Jesus himself.

But, yes, the beauty of art is that its interpretation is open-ended and so after gazing, I like to go grazing to see what others see. Thank-you google. I valued Jenny's reflections:

"Notice that the penitent woman is kneeling in the darkness at the back of the sanctuary, not at the brightly lit altar. Perhaps she feels unworthy to approach God in that holy place. Perhaps she is too ashamed to be seen by others in the cathedral. Or, perhaps, she is simply too weary from carrying her life’s burdens to walk down the long aisle. Her reasons for kneeling in the back pew instead of the altar really don’t matter. Her location isn’t important; his is. He is right there beside her in her anguish, bringing his holy light, his presence, to her darkness."

I suspect Dieter may have booked his flights to Edinburgh already.

nice chatting



Paul said…
I bet it is on your bucket list as well, my artist-preacher-friend!

BTW, Fred, I've just had three more books from The Artistry of Preaching series (out of Abingdon) arrive. Right up your alley!


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