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The Rock of our Salvation1 month ago
Taking her inspiration from the scriptures and from Katsushika Hokusai's 'The Great Wave', Felicity Lawson helps us to not only think about the firm foundation that we have as Christians when life is crashing all around us during the pandemic, but also to see that message in art. The wind and the waves will cease, she reminds us, but God’s love and grace abide forever
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to receive prophetic pictures while other people more often have words? Is it simply that this is the way God chooses to use them or is it something to do with the way they are made, their personality profile?
Or why is it that some people when following a guided Ignatian meditation, one where we use our imagination and our senses to reflect on a biblical passage, enter so easily into the scene? As it develops they can really hear the sounds, smell the surroundings, see what’s going on around them and engage with the story at a profound level where they hear Jesus saying things which are original and pertinent to them. For other people, while they may appreciate this form of prayer, the engagement is more in their heads and it’s often harder work for them to stay focused and engaged.
I recently came across some research which said that roughly a quarter of people think in pictures, a quarter in words and the rest in a mixture of both. Many of us in Christian ministry, especially if there is a strong teaching element to it, think in words. I do myself. Most engineers and architects think in pictures as do many inventors and scientists. Apparently Einstein thought in pictures. Perhaps one of the reasons Charlie Mackesy’s book ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse’ has had such an impact is because it uses both? It engages with a wide cross-section of the population as well as containing profound wisdom in very accessible and digestible form. No wonder so many people are posting or sharing pages from it on Facebook.
Although a predominantly verbal thinker I find that God often speaks to me through the visual. I used to love going to the Ignatian retreat centre at Osterley, now sadly closed, where the Director Sr Annie Bromham IBVM was an artist. She taught me to use my senses and to take time and linger over what I saw or experienced. She helped me appreciate colour and form whether it was the simple shapes of fabric draped on the floor in the centre of a prayer circle or the more complex movements and colours within her own paintings or sculptures.
I was very grateful to a friend who recently drew my attention to the famous painting by the Japanese artist Hokusai. Often known in English as ‘The Great Wave’ or sometimes ‘Tsunami’ it was originally created as part of an exhibition of prints under the title ‘Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji’. It is estimated that about 5,000 prints were made from the original woodcut but since then it has been reproduced millions of times. On first viewing attention is drawn to the enormous wave and the three small boats clearly in danger of being overwhelmed. Mount Fuji seems small in comparison and is easily overlooked unless you know the original title of the exhibition.
For many people the Covid 19 pandemic has felt like that huge wave threatening to destroy everything in its path. Unimaginable numbers of people across the world have lost their lives, others have life-changing health issues as a result of contracting it. The global economy is more precarious than ever. Innumerable people will lose their jobs while many in developing parts of the world are starving as a result of the lockdowns imposed by their governments. And the global scale issues focus down to threats in our own lives and the lives of those around us. At different times and to differing degrees most of us have felt tossed about and out of control just like the people in the boats.
For Japanese people Mount Fuji is iconic – a symbol not only of national identity but of beauty and stability. As Christians we find our identity and security in Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the rock of our salvation as it says in Ps 95, which many of us have said for years as The Venite. What does this mean at a time like this? Well I don’t think it means we are protected from ever experiencing the storms and waves of life like the current pandemic. What it does mean is that we have a firm foundation for faith and a perspective with which to view the waves around us. Psalm 62 reminds us ‘Truly my soul finds rest in God, my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation, he is my fortress. I will never be shaken.’ The wind and the waves will cease but God’s love and grace abide forever whether we currently sense them or not.