The Light of the World by Holman Hunt

I’ve always loved the pre-Raphaelite painters with their richness of colour, texture and mythic themes, not to mention that I would have made a perfect model for them.

Holman Hunt’s most famous painting, The Light of the World, is a feast of richness and mystery. The figure is assumed to be Jesus, a very English interpretation, standing at a door and knocking but look closer and notice some interesting things.

The door is already open and yet, it seems little used. Wild plants grow up around the doorway, untrampled and mostly undisturbed. The door is in fact wedged open. It’s also hard to tell whether the door is going out or coming into somewhere. Jesus looks sad. He looks like he is coming to remind someone of something they have forgotten, as if he is knocking to tell people, hey look the door is open, it’s been open for years, why don’t you come through?

He also looks uncertain, as if he doesn’t know how he is going to be welcomed and given that crown of thorns on his head, can you blame him. I imagine he is tapping lightly but without bravado on that door, persistently alerting us to the fact that the door is open, but he is simply standing there. Where does the doorway lead to and where does it lead from?

Who is waiting for who? Is he waiting for us to come to him or is he waiting to be told he can come in?

Is it later than we think?

Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding

 

Maundy Thursday ~ calm before the storm and a sense of foreboding

 

Some years ago now, I wrote a poem that still haunts my own memory, if that doesn’t sound too self-obsessed. I was walking home late at night after attending a Maundy Thursday vigil and as I walked through our quiet village, I smelled lamb cooking at the Indian takeaway and it set a train of thought running that resulted in me coming in and scribbling down the following prose poem.

Gethsemane Girl

It’s a still night, the warm air filled

With the hot greasy scent of a thousand meals.

Glad I didn’t have to cook tonight;

I know lamb is traditional but it seems so unfair:

That little life cut short just for us.

I shouldn’t be here; they said no.

He didn’t, of course; he never does.

But I’m here anyway.

Maybe he knows; they don’t.

Look at them, sleeping like babies!

He wasn’t himself tonight, seemed sad.

Someone said he’s paranoid,

Expecting betrayal at any moment.

Won’t be me”, that’s what Peter said.

He can’t help boasting but it’s sad.

He’s like a big hairy dog pretending to be brave-

One sniff of a wolf and he’d be off!

Anyway, I’m worried.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned,

It’s this: men can’t be trusted.

I shouldn’t be here: but someone should,

And since they’ve all dozed off

There’s only me, wide-awake in the bushes.

Nothing I can do but wait;

This mood of his will pass,

It always does.

But he does look so sad

And I wish-

But that’s not to be.

I’m so tired too.

I don’t know why I’m here;

I don’t understand half of what he says

But while he says it, it sounds so right.

Pity not everyone agrees.

If I close my eyes, just rest them, mind,

Just for a moment or two.

It’s been such a long day.

I won’t sleep, not like the others.

Not sleeping, just resting my eyes,

Just-

I’d been thinking about the other ‘actors’ in that drama so many centuries ago, wondering how they’d seen it all, living it moment by moment without knowing the eventual outcome. I identified with those shadowy figures that we hear mentioned and who played a pivotal role in the Easter story and yet whose own voices have never been heard. As I smelled the hot curry smell, I thought about the women who cooked and cared for Jesus and the disciples and started wondering what they had truly been thinking, that night before the Passover, so many centuries ago. We don’t know who they all were, Mary Magdalene is often suggested as one of the inner circle; she has always struck me as girl with resources and I began to wonder whether she would have sneaked after the disciples who were invited to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

So into that darkened garden I crept, my hands still slightly greasy with lamb fat and olive oil from the shared meal and my eyes heavy with tiredness. I knew things were changing, sensing the storm coming like a weather sense, and yet, hoping and hoping that nothing bad was going to happen.

While I wrote the poem some years ago, at the time, I could also sense changes coming, unable to pinpoint them. It took longer for the storm to hit, and my life to be altered beyond anything I imagined, but like Mary in that garden, I knew something was coming.

Now, six or seven years later, I approach Maundy Thursday with the renewed sense of something coming. It’s still far off, I think, but I can feel it, like a summer storm you can feel even when the sun is brilliant and there’s not a cloud to be seen except that dim dark line at the far horizon. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad coming, but change in any way is unsettling and shakes you up.

I’m trying to remember my Gethsemane Girl, hiding in the bushes and not knowing the end of the story, and trying to tell her, Be strong, it changes everything beyond what you ever imagined possible.

 

Was I God’s photographer?

My reflections on THAT  photograph.

It’s been a little over a  week since I saw the image for the first time and a week since I posted the picture here and I have had a lot of time to think. I’ve thought about the responses of all those who have seen it and commented on it(either here, in private by email or in person) and I’ve thought about my own reactions, both to the picture and to the comments.

 A number of you perceived it as a feminine presence, but many more saw it as either the face of God or an image of Jesus Christ himself. Many have also seen it as being a sign of something special to come.

In seeking clarity I approached a number of people who have experience in these matters.

My own spiritual teacher told me that it was indeed the face of Jesus and that it was a great blessing for me.

Julian Drewett, general secretary of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies  commented that due to the chanting and the overall prayerful atmosphere, “the veil was thin”, that unseen barrier between the world we see and the world that resides both beyond it and embedded within in and my camera was able to capture an image of the beings who surround us at all times though we know it not. He also commented that it isn’t unusual for these things to be seen but it is unusual to have them captured like this.

 Neil Broadbent of the Sozein Trust  suggested that the image was in fact a thought form created by the monks at prayer, a suggestion that actually raises far more questions and implications than it solves. And for me it entirely negates my personal role in taking the photo; any blessing or sense of being somehow special at being the person who took the photo is taken away. In his view the focus is entirely on the monks who are mysteriously creating this image with smoke and sunlight and not on the witness who captured it and is now asking the questions. His response was to play down the sheer wonder of this image and make it commonplace and focused entirely on the spiritual elite.

 One of the tests of a vision is what has it produced and in the week since I first saw this image, I think I have spent more time in prayer and contemplation than I have for a long time. I have also been deeply moved by the responses of people who have seen it. People who have seldom if ever had anything to do with religion of any sort have come away with goosebumps and with wonder in their eyes and have begun to ask all sorts of questions. For me, it has been a ride of epic proportions because while I have seen and experienced things before, they have all been effectively subjective. Never before have I had objective evidence of an experience. Gazing at the image I am struck by the pose of the figure. He stands with his arms raised slightly, comfortable, as if waiting to greet with a hug whoever steps forward. He does not stand as if still crucified and he does not raise an arm as a warning or a blessing; he stands as one of us, beside us.

If you blow the image larger you may see other images inside it. I have had comments about paraeidolia  and I am content to say, yes, we do indeed see images and patterns and faces in random things. But what a coincidence that a camera should capture such an appropriate image in a church during a service… I am struck also by the coincidence of my thoughts and feelings during the service with the apparition(if that is the right word) and how it also coincides with Jesus’s own words,”When two or three are gathered together, there am I also.” The other images in the picture to me simply reinforce the impression given by Julian that we are surrounded by beings(whether we call them angels or not) who care for us. I will be quite honest: it’s a rare month that goes by without me giving thought at least once to suicide. But to remember that I am surrounded even at times like those by bright spirits is something that gives great comfort.

 If the image has moved you, pass it on to others you think may find comfort or inspiration in it. If you have any thoughts to share, I would be very grateful to hear them, either here or privately via email.

You can find my email address on the Contact me page.

 Thank you everyone.

Miracle at Mont Saint Michel

I first went to Mont Saint Michel in 1980, aged only 14, and returning thirty years later felt strange. I returned as a part of an assignment for work. I took a group of 21 mixed aged English school kids and their two teachers for a five day trip round France. On Sunday the 30th of May, the feast day of Joan of Arc and also Mother’s Day in France, we arrived as the monks were ringing the bells for morning prayer. Drawn by a need to sit and find some inner peace, I chose a bench halfway down the abbey church and was surprised to find a couple of the older girls joined me. Incense began to fill the air, and music played. I shivered, that goosebumps moment when you feel God is very, very close, and you feel that if you look up at the right moment, you will see Him. Tears began to fill my eyes and I felt alarmed. I couldn’t have an emotional meltdown here. I was in charge. The kids would think I was an idiot. I bit down hard on my need to cry and let myself detach from my emotions a little. To capture the moment, I held the camera above my head and snapped a few photos, so I could maybe later recall and give way to my feelings.

Plainchant in French made the hairs on my body stand on end and the readings, caught in snatches because of my poor French were like Sybil’s leaves blown on the wind….

“Before the hills were made, I knew you. I knew you in your mother’s womb.”

I can’t recall what book from the Bible they were from.  

I went on, determined to be strong. I toured the rest of the abbey and bought the obligatory fridge magnet. A little later, I discovered I had lost my purse, containing all my Euros. I nearly panicked. I ran back up to the abbey shop and asked there. Nothing. I left my name and address and was told to report it to the tourist office, which I did once I found them open again after lunch. I stayed in French, which I am proud of and I stayed calm. It was only money after all.

As I sat I remembered all the times I have had small miracles, where unexpected money has come my way just when I needed it. I can’t help hoping that my 50 or 60 euros went to someone who really needed it, and as I sat there thinking that, I thought, may they have joy of it.

The rest of the trip went well, but on the channel ferry yesterday, we were looking at photos. I’d snapped away and never actually looked at any of my own. The photo below was greeted with astonishment and awe:

I  am myself astonished and greatly moved. The window behind has no pattern in it; there isn’t a figure in it, as far as I saw. You will have to take my word that this photo is unaltered; anyone who knows me also knows stuff like photo shop is beyond me. I saw nothing when I took the photo.

I know who I think the figure is.

Who do you think it is?

Everyone agreed that it’s a sign, but a sign of what?

Truth is that today I feel that the world has become far more complex than it was before. I’m the sort of person things happen to, but they are usually not good things. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. I’ve been given something extraordinary and I simply do not know what I must do with it.

This has happened for a reason, just as I lost my purse for a reason.

I pray that the reason becomes evident soon.