Hopeful Shadows

Like many people I enjoy the process of writing or jotting down my thoughts and find it beneficial in my spiritual journey. As a visual person I am not only affected by my immediate environment, but, also in the innumerable photographs I take along the way. As many of you know It was one of my first lockdown goals to sort the backlog of family pics that sit out in the ether. The unknown cloud that holds all our memories in pixilated form, a digitalised catalogue of pleasures, sharing and the in-between bits that make up this lollipop life; fresh and fragrant, but equally ready to melt away into a messy puddle on the floor before our very eyes. One thing that will remain as a constant reminder down the years of this liminal time, for me, is the lack of photographs. I have taken so few photos of family and friends over the last year! It was not a conscious decision, but just an unnoticed (perhaps inevitable) outcome of a reduced communal life. The birthday parties, holidays, day trips, family walks…

When life is so fast paced there seems an urgency to want to capture it; to hold on to these fleeting moments before they are no longer within our grasp. It is like watching your children grown up – it seems to happen overnight. So, I am trying to capture micro moments in my every day. I am trying to reclaim the joy of this gift laden living.

Whilst sat at my desk pondering some practical arrangement or other, I became aware of the interplay between the light gleaming through my window and the movement of traffic on the road to the right of my house. As each vehicle passed, the shadows on my desk would elongate before reducing to the finest line as though the whole pattern was rotating before my eyes. Yes, the great dance. The dance of the spirit now in sunlit form! How ridiculous it may sound, but how true it is. Many of life’s blessings come in through the side window – have you ever noticed that? We are often blessed through hard times, chance meetings, or circumstances beyond our control. Sat at my desk I am whispered to again, of my blessings: a beautiful desk that was offered for free on facebook; the laughter we had trying to bring it home in my beloved Kia Venga (now gone to car heaven); the loveliest friend who saw the potential and tenderly waxed, polished, and restored it for me; the marks I have made as I sit here praying, thinking, writing.

The wonder of God’s creation has a way of infiltrating our lives. For there is nowhere we can go from God’s spirit, no distance we can run, no amount of hiding in the shadows. The divine is within, and around all life. The sun’s rays come like tendrils into my study and caress me, and when the long shadow of evening falls, I feel God’s hand at the cooling of the day. We can try all we like to sterilise the notion of God: but God will not be tamed.

To be in the world is to be in God.

As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, the Christian doctrine of the three in one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can perhaps share some sympathy with Nicodemus. This learned Pharisee, often portrayed as fearful (travelling at night to see Jesus) and so bound by his taught faith that he found himself stuck between his desire to understand, and the confinement of his knowledge.  We hear of his story in John 3: 1-17 and the agony of a man trying to unravel the mystery of our spirit-flesh life, both in heaven and on earth. Nicodemus wants concrete answers to ease his mind; to help him understand – good luck with that! For the gospels rarely give us absolutes: full as they are with metaphor, hyperbole, and parables. And why is that? I have often reflected on this, and today I think it might have something to do with the limitations of our head knowledge. God desires to lead us away from hard facts, black and white text: instead bathing us in the ability to imagine, create and believe.

For many, the spiritual dimension of a faith filled life are hard to understand – let alone ascribe to. We have lost our way by separating the water and Spirit:

‘very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit’ (v.5 NRSV)

Head knowledge will only carry us so far. Jesus offered Nicodemus a window, another way to view this life, and by the time we read about the burial of Our Lord, well, he is no longer referred to as ‘the Pharisee’ but simply his given name Nicodemus, which holds the Greek meaning: Peoples victory. I like that name. I like that thought; that someone who was lost in his own head was given a way to see the unknown. To shrug off past baggage and run free in faith and being. Prior to lockdown I travelled to visit the Benedictine Abbey at Montserrat, high in the Catalonian mountains, and to see La Moreneta (the image of the virgin) sat on the high silver altarpiece. The experience was incredibly moving, but what I remember now is how glorious the back chapel (hidden from view, and only accessibly after queuing to see La Moreneta) really was. It was in this secret chapel that I photographed the open window (above). Sometimes the unseen is the most beautiful of all, and it remains my experience that God always provides an opening- we just need to summon the courage to take it.

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