Sunday, 26 September 2010

Triptych - a harvest of beans

 I've been working on a paper this week which I'm giving at a conference tomorrow. The conference is organised by the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, and it's called Finding God in Holy Places. My paper is called 'Finding God in Empty Spaces - a Visual Theology of the In-Between'. I explore the capacity of art to express our desire for God through our sense of an elusive absence within the materiality of the world. (You can read the paper and see the Powerpoint presentation by following these links).

One of the artists I refer to is the sculptor Edward Robinson, whose work includes a series of carved triptychs. He uses the triptychs to explore themes of concealment and revelation, and to encourage us to reflect on those inner worlds which resist scrutiny and are meant to remain hidden, revealing their mysteries only occasionally to the contemplative gaze. He prefers his triptychs to remain closed most of the time, to remind those who see them of the mystery of God hidden within the world.

I took time out yesterday morning from an intense week of writing the paper and preparing for the start of the new academic year. It was a glorious day - with that early autumnal warmth and soft blue sky which rest like a benediction on the passing of summer. I went up to the allotment to pick the garlands of beans which have appeared in the last few weeks, and I decided to sit up there and shell them in the sunshine. As I worked, I reflected on Robinson's triptychs, and it occurred to me that these beautiful beans communicated the same kind of message. It was the toughest, most unattractive pods which contained a wondrous assortment of colours, gleaming in the sunshine and telling of the unseen beauty hidden within the most ordinary of appearances. What evolutionary grace deemed that these beans should develop in this way? For whose gaze were they intended, hidden away from the eyes of insects and birds? Is it possible that these were made only for God's delight and ours, nature's triptychs opening up to those who have eyes to see?

What a pity that their colours disappear when they're cooked, and yesterday's miracle is tomorrow's meal. But I hope you enjoy sharing them in all their ephemeral glory.


  1. Glorious colours but to the believer is anything really "ephemeral", least of all us? Theoretical physicist Dr John Polkinghorne writes the best definition of the soul I have ever read-
    "My understanding of the soul is that it is the almost infinitely complex, dynamic, information-bearing pattern, carried at any instant by the matter of my animated body and continuously developing throughout all the constituent changes of my bodily make-up during the course of my earthly life. That psychosomatic unity is dissolved at death by the decay of my body, but I believe it is a perfectly coherent hope that the pattern that is me will be remembered by God and its instantiation will be recreated by him when he reconstitutes me in a new environment of his choosing".

    Scientists Polkinghorne( Anglican) and Wilkinson (Methodist) help us left-brained people who struggle to find God in art and are envious of those like yourself who describe it so beautifully, clearly moved. Is there a Roman Catholic writing in a similar vein to the above?

  2. Look out for
    HORIZON next Monday, 11 Oct, 9pm.
    "....But now some scientists believe that was not really the beginning. Our universe may have had a life before this violent moment of creation.

    Horizon takes the ultimate trip into the unknown, to explore a dizzying world of cosmic bounces, rips and multiple universes, and finds out what happened before the big bang.
    Sir Roger Penrose has changed his mind about the Big Bang. He now imagines an eternal cycle of expanding universes where matter becomes energy and back again in the birth of new universes and so on and so on."

    Sounds a bit Hindu? Breaths of Brahma? A fruitful multiverse but who put the fire into the equations and how precious is ours?

  3. Closing words of Professor Michio Kaku (Horizon):

    "My parents were Buddhists. In Buddhism there is no beginning, no end, there is just Nirvana. But as a child, I also went to Sunday School where I learned that there was an instant when God said "Let there be light". So I had these mutually contradicting paradigms in my head. Well, now we can meld these two paradigms into a pleasing whole. Yes, there was a genesis. Yes there was a big bang and it happens all the time".


  4. Recommended:

    Thought for the Day Tues 2 Nov.
    Refers to upcoming BM Book of the Dead exhibition (starts 4 Nov).
    Ends with challenging question.

  5. CERN'S Large Hadron Collider

    "...Yet as a Christian, trained as an astrophysicist, there is a further reason why I will be following the results of the collisions this week. The more I get to know about the elegant scientific laws which lie behind the universe, the more I see them as a reflection of the faithful sustaining activity of a Creator God. For the Christian understanding of creation is not about a god who lights the blue touch paper of the Big Bang and retires a safe distance, but a God who holds the whole scientific process in the palm of his hand, and then invites wonder at the beauty not just of the universe but also the science. We may not all need to know about such things, but if we want to know, I believe that God invites us to keep asking the questions and keep doing the experiments.

    Dr David Wilkinson "Thought for the Day" 8/11


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