From the Rectory
August 2006

From Jenny

Brian asked me to write something for the opening pages of this month's magazine as he was going to be away on holiday as the deadline for articles drew near.

I recently went on a 'pilgrimage' to Cookham in Berkshire. Cookham is famous for being the birth place of the 20th century artist Stanley Spencer and there is a tiny art gallery there which houses a handful of his works. Stanley Spencer loved Cookham - he spent his childhood there and continued to live there when he was studying at the Slade School of Art in London. He is famous for many types of painting - landscapes, portraits, scenes of the 1st and 2nd world wars and for his religious paintings many of which are set in Cookham. His religious paintings are often idiosyncratic and unorthodox - and you may not like them! - but their setting reveals something of his belief that Jesus was, and is, at home in the usual workaday world in which we live. Thus he pictures Christ carrying the Cross down Cookham High Street, the Last Supper taking place in the local malt house, the Resurrection taking place in the Cookham churchyard which he knew so well. One of his last paintings, a striking and shocking Crucifixion, used the faces of local people for those nailing Christ to the Cross.

It seems that Spencer continually saw Heaven and Earth 'breaking in' on each other and saw ordinary people as composed of both human and divine elements. Someone noted that even Stanley Spencer's angels wore jumpers.

One of the paintings in the Cookham gallery is the picture which he was working on at the time of his death in 1959 - typically it is set in Cookham and shows Christ preaching at the Cookham Regatta. The painting was unfinished at the time of his death but is interesting nonetheless. Jesus on a boat has been painted in - sitting in a basket chair, wearing a boater and leaning forward as he speaks to some rather inattentive passengers. Most of the background has also been completed but much of the foreground is just pencilled in or lightly painted. Some patches of vegetation have been entered in great detail seeming to serve as a test or template for the rest. Looking at the painting you can guess at what the painter's real intention was but much could still have been altered - the pencilled in figures could have been given another pose or moved to another part of the canvas. The picture remains one of promise and possibility.

Looking at the unfinished picture made me think of God as artist and creator in our lives. Would we find comfort in thinking that God had every part of our lives mapped out and painted in minute detail. Perhaps that is how you feel God works in your life - you are the blank canvas on which he paints. Other people might prefer the idea that God has a picture of what we may become but that he invites our co-operation in how the image comes to reality. When we go astray or mar God's image of us we can trust that God, the master artist and creator, can redeem those slips and not give us up as a bad job. It may comfort us also to think that God's work in us is never completed - when we feel that he has added rather too much shadow to our lives we can hope that is not the end of his work in us and with us ... and that the creative task will continue after this life has ended.

August in Freemantle will have an artistic theme - come to the Art and Craft display, look at the work of local artists and discover how they reflect the image of God as artist and creator!