August 21

1 Corinthians 13: 12

Since the pandemic started, we have been hoping for a day when all will return to ‘normal’. Even though all restrictions have been lifted, it does not feel as though we are at the point of heaving a sigh of relief and waving Covid “good bye”.

I recently spoke to some friends from our caving club. One is a nurse who caught Covid on the ward. She is experiencing Long Covid symptoms but has returned to work to support her short staffed colleagues still caring for very poorly people. Another is a deputy head who outlined the struggle to keep staff, pupils and parents going whilst sorting out food parcels for families in need during the long holidays. Then, there was an elderly lady in Greenhow who I haven’t seen since Christmas 2019. She thanked me with tears in her eyes for remembering that, last time I saw her, she had just come out of hospital following an operation. She has barely seen anyone due to shielding and I could tell that she feels invisible sometimes.

Talking caving again reminded me of a piece I wrote at the start of the first lockdown. We have made great strides forward since then but there are a lot of people still feeling worried and uncertain about health, about jobs, about managing the  huge backlog of delayed ‘stuff’ we have to deal with. Some of what I wrote then seems just as relevant now:

Any new climber is advised to maintain three points of contact with the rock, giving optimum stability and reducing your risk of falling. The first time you are told to, “let go and trust your rope,” is a revelation; that something only millimetres thick can stop you falling into the abyss.

When climbing you often have someone holding you on a lifeline, talking you through the tricky bits; giving you slack rope and freedom to climb whilst the going is good, or tightening the rope to hold you close in when the scary bits come.

Now, faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains; and hope as slim as that rope has seen people through the darkest of days. Love is the lifeline that takes in the slack and holds us when the going is rough. We may have human life liners such as family and friends, pastors, carers, medical staff, keyworkers, neighbours etc. doing that for us. Even if we haven’t, there is a greater Life Liner still.

It’s time to, “Just let go and trust” the rope of Faith, Hope and Love; our three points of contact. The greatest of these is love and, even though the rope might fray and break… Love never fails!

Carol

September 2021

John 1:1-9

St Peter by Candlelight hangs in Cartwright Hall Gallery in Lister Park. If you haven’t been, the Gallery is well worth a visit. Or, you can check out this painting on vads.ac.uk/digital/collection/NIRP/id/28795.

Godfried Schalken (1643-1706) painted it around 1700-6. Schalken trained with the Dutch masters who liked to play with the effects of light and dark in their work. He came to England after the coronation of William of Orange and produced lots of  paintings of the English court.

Dr Phillippa Flock tells us that this painting is typical with its candlelight in a darkened room. St Peter is recognised by the keys he is carrying following Jesus commission to him as the rock upon which the Church is built. Many believe that he holds the keys to the  big, shiny, ‘pearly gates’.

When you see the painting, you’ll notice that Schalken paints Peter as a common man, not in the shiny robes and ‘bling’ of a pope as was the earlier tradition. It hangs at one end of a long gallery. What I noticed as I walked towards it from a distance away was how it was the flame that draws your attention. Peter, in shadow with a faint red reflected glow on his face, can barely be seen until you get much closer.

He’s turning his head as if he’s just heard something (a still, small voice perhaps?) and he holds the large keys very securely in his right hand. He does not look like a great and powerful man, just an ordinary one going about his business, But oh, what business!

I was moved by the painting and went back to have another look on my monthly writing day with Gillian, a fellow Christian and writer. Contemplating the painting and what its possible meanings were (there is always more than one perspective and your response could be very different to mine. That’s OK!) I started to write. Here is the poem that emerged:

Master of shade and light

Schalken paints Peter.

No shiny Saint, just

an ordinary one

pulled constantly

left and right.

Walk towards him and

it’s not Peter you see.

It’s the light, shining

through darkness as

always, from the beginning.

Darkness cannot

overcome it.

Peter stands, keys to the

Kingdom of Light

in his right hand.

Seeing how huge are

The Keys

How wide must be

The Door!

 

 

Information about St Peter by Candlelight taken from: Dr Phillippa Flock vads.ac.uk/digital/collection/NIRP/id/28795(Accessed 19/08/2021) and from information sheet beside painting in Cartwright Hall Gallery, Bradford Museums, Lister Park. (Free entry)