Introduction: Travel, art, music and poetry for Worship
The starting point of Craig’s piece is a book report, but with his own thoughts that deserve careful and close reading. Wendy Langmore gives an account of her travels with the Gallachers and their exploration of Ethiopian Orthodox churches, a truly exotic perspective on worship to share with us. Rob Gallacher also contributes a piece from earlier travels on Art at St Paul’s in London.
In Melbourne, this Easter saw a high number of sacred music concerts, but as we have just observed the Ascension I have chosen one that had our reviewer amazed at what she saw as well as heard. The picture that accompanies her review is absolutely genuine and is a rare sight in St Paul’s Cathedral!
This reviewer, a member of the Anglican Church, has just published her first book of religious poetry, which makes Rosemary Wearing the second of my friends to burst into poetry recently on a Bible theme. Rosemary’s poem takes us right into the heart of worship being connected to a particular service; in her words, “prepared for the children, inspired by Craig’s talk at the service February, 2017”.
And the children’s own contribution to our worship is seen throughout this newsletter in pictures of them with the Paschal candle they created for our Eastertide services. In our first piece, Mary Sutherland gives the background to their effort.
So many ways to worship, so much to read and enjoy. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this newsletter, not forgetting our “behind the scenes” producer, Rod.
Wishing you a warm and wonderful winter, full of music and inspired thoughts and words.
Two versions of the loved hymn, All things bright and beautiful
2. Music by John Rutter, sung by Hayley Westernra.
Our 2017 Easter Candle
The concept for this year’s Paschal Candle was suggested by Peter Blackwood after he and Sue had a memorable visit to Ravenna. He thought a design with a very wide stripe right round the candle could be developed from the star studded sky surrounding the cross in glory in the apse of the Archbishop’s Chapel in Ravenna Cathedral. This would make a more achievable project for our children from grade 3 to 3 year olds.
This would also be practical for Craig’s new plan to burn the candle most Sundays. This will mean that instead of the candle regularly burning down only 8 cms during the year to a strategically placed stripe it might now burn down 20cms! We will all wait and see.
The candle was painted over 3 Sundays by Coulton and Jasmine, Luke, Chessie and Isobel with help from Jess, Annette, Wendy, Maggie and me – so 10 people were involved in bringing Peter’s concept to fruition.
Week 1 we painted the masked stripes and the cobalt blue background on the prepared candle, then stripped off the masking tape to reveal neat stripes.
Week 2 we did spots of pale cobalt blue and transparent Prussian blue to help the background have depth like the mosaic tiles in the original.
Week 3 we stuck silver and gold stars in a couple of sizes on to white dots to help copy the circles of stars around the cross in Ravenna.
As you can see from the pictures the children’s concentration was intense. They are proud of the candle they contribute to the congregation for our weekly worship.
A footnote. If any of the travellers in our congregation see an interesting cross which may be adapted sometime for our candle could they please take a photo and show us!
A couple of years ago Mireille chose the Monastery at Lalibela in Ethiopia for our design – a remarkable site carved in a cruciform shape out of the very rock. Rob and Norma Gallacher and Wendy Langmore visited there this March.
Within a week or so we move from the season of Easter into the so-called “Ordinary” season of the church’s year. The “ordinariness” of this season is not its plainness but that its Sundays are “ordered” – counted – sometimes from Pentecost, sometimes from other “ordinary” Sundays between Epiphany and Lent.
What it is called doesn’t much matter but a characteristic of the season is it length and the absence of notable festival Sundays before the beginning of Advent, around the end of November. After the run of festivals from Christ the King through Christmas, Epiphany-Transfiguration, Lent and Easter, the Ordinary season is an extended period often treated as a time for consolidation of the meaning of the busier festival times.
It’s in this connection that I offer a very brief report on a book I’m reading with a circle of colleagues, James K A Smith’s, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation. Smith gives an account of Christian worship and education which offers much to enrich our understanding of the purpose of Sunday-after-Sunday worship. Central to his case is that what the church does in its liturgy is not much different from what happens in pretty much every sphere of our social existence: it performs rituals which express desire and give shape to a beloved “thing”.
By comparison, Smith unpacks the highly ritualised nature of attending and consuming at a local shopping mall and studying at university and the desires and loves indicated in their rituals. A particular benefit of this kind of comparison is that, contrary to the apologetic cringe we are sometimes wont to perform when it comes to making sense of Christian worship and confession to outsiders, the practices of the church are shown to be not much different in kind from those of other communities or institutions within our community. Alternative, those other communities and practices – even self-nominated “secular” ones – can be understood as having their own religious character not much different in kind from that of the church. We are, Smith proposes, “homo liturgicus” – liturgical animals, in whatever endeavour we pursue.
In these liturgies – in our case, worship and Christian education – we are engaged in a process of formation of hearts and desires. Smith draws on contemporary thinking about the human being – although with ancient Christian resonance – which draw us away from the notion that we are primarily thinking beings which happen to enclosed in bodies; what our bodies do – the practices in which we engage – affects how we think and how we will continue to act. Yet what our bodies do, and so how we think, is a matter of training – nurture through this or that ritual or liturgy – and much less natural than we often imagine.
The significance of this for our entry into the Ordinary season is that it enables us to re-imagine (should we be imagining something else!) what the week-in-week-out cycle of being in church is about. In the rituals of gathering, hearing the Word, confessing (both sin and our faith), sharing peace, breaking bread and being sent we are – in body, mind and desire – being trained towards a particular kind of community, being ever more nearly inducted (if it’s working!) into a particular kind of kingdom.
This does not happen only in Ordinary and, if it does happen here, we can see how the festivity of the other seasons might become something of a distraction from what they have in common with Ordinary: a share in a liturgical process which is not only the “work of the people” (the meaning of the Greek roots of “liturgy”) but a working of the people into a different people, a different community, a different kingdom.
We might at one stage add Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom to our study circle series but, in the meantime, I commend his account of the worship of the church to all at MtE who would like better to understand the What, the How and the Why of our weekly worship routines. At the very least, you can expect to meet him in some of our “LitBits” in the months to come!
Visit to Ethiopia
For two weeks in February this year, Rob and Norma Gallacher and I travelled through the Highlands of Ethiopia with a tour party of twelve others and two guides, one British and one Ethiopian. Although the tour was named ‘Historical and Cultural’ the main focus was on the Ethiopian Orthodox churches and their amazing wall and ceiling paintings, traditional icons and illuminated religious books. This was the interest of those who joined the tour, which made for a very like-minded group. We also all greatly appreciated the beauties of the country.
As well we visited three non-government organisations working in Ethiopia – one run by a Canadian group training cooks and waiters in an effectively managed restaurant where we had a delicious meal; another, the Ploughshares Project, where single mothers and women recovering from operations could stay for some time and learn craft skills such as pottery, embroidery, weaving and basket making to take back to their villages. The third was a branch of the Hamlyn Fistula hospital where young girls can have fistulas medically repaired after tearing when giving birth.
The tour followed the historical centres of influence in Ethiopia, starting with Axum in the far north. Axum was a civilized and influential kingdom before 1000 BC, from which travelled the Queen of Sheba to visit Solomon. Axum saw the beginnings of Christianity in Ethiopia, when Syrian Christian servants converted the young king in the fourth century AD – making it the oldest Christian kingdom. A high percentage of people in this region are practicing Orthodox and attend church for at least three hours a week and often more. Every village has a church and a priest, usually a sacred book and a metal cross in the style of the region.
Axum weakened in the seventh and eight centuries and power moved to Lalibela. This was the second we visited, and here some of the early churches were built in caves. From those, the Lalibela rock churches developed, especially under King Lalibela in the twelfth century. The soft volcanic ash tufa was dug out around a church until the layer of larval basalt was reached. Then the interior of the church was excavated, leaving spaces for worship. Some of the churches are linked by tunnels or ledges, and the most famous one, St Georges, is a single church, with the top of the church, in the form of a cross, at the same level as the surrounding rock platform. In Lalibela we also say a priest training a group of young men to be deacons, sitting round outside.
The third centre was Gondor where the Emperors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries built palaces in a large compound. They also sponsored wonderful churches with wall paintings of Old and New Testament stories and of saints filling every space. There are many monasteries built on islands in Lake Tana, and we visited two beautifully decorated churches on a six-hour boat trip on the Lake.
We returned to Melbourne inspired by the ancient history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the devotion of its members, by the warm and lovely people we met, and by the wonderful achievements of the talented artists, architects and builders we saw displayed. The icons were a particular delight.
Before we finish with our travels (in particular, the Gallachers’ travels!) here is a piece held over from the last newsletter and written by Rob, which needs no introduction.
Art Work in St. Paul’s, London
“It’s gloomy and dull”, said Queen Victoria, “I don’t like it, and I’m not going there!”
When Christopher Wren built the Cathedral in the 17th century, he had to contend with the City Council. They were mostly Puritans with a Calvinistic disaffection for images. He had already defied them by building a dome instead of to a spire, giving St Paul’s an appearance similar to the Catholic St Peter’s in Rome. So, the interior was left unadorned and undecorated. That is not so now.
Norma and I were fortunate as we knew the artist in residence, Regan O’Callaghan, and he took us around. He pointed to the various mosaics in the squinches, and said, “The Queen’s comment started a slow process of decoration. Now, as the sun moves around, shining through the south facing windows, sparkles of gold light up the mosaics, and there is colour and symbolism.”
At the end of the north aisle we studied a visual installation by Bill Viola and Kira Perov. The artists had photographed actors of different races re-creating scenes from the life of Christ, and then displayed them on three video screens. It took 35 minutes to see the whole sequence, which was too long for us. We watched Mary cradling her dead son, the Pieta. It was an emotional, grief stricken Mary who slowly lifted her face to the camera, and I felt that emotion had rather supplanted theology. In the south aisle, the same artists had another work: four screens showing four martyrs being tortured. The four traditional elements of fire, water, air and earth are used to depict the martyrs’ darkest hour, through which they remained faithful. As flames leapt up around one writhing hero, and water torture consumed the next agonised victim, my stomach turned over. I am used to still pictures of suffering martyrs, but the realism of these animated scenes was something else. The installation had been created at the time when the Abu Ghraib atrocities were coming to light, and was there as a protest against the use of torture.
St Paul’s seems to be emphasising social issues. In the sanctuary there are two huge, 20 feet high, white crosses by Gerry Judah. They support a series of bombed villages. I thought Palestinian, but they could have been Syrian, or from any other war zone. My reaction was despair, but afterwards I realised that there was no body of Jesus on the crosses, placing emphasis on resurrection. So perhaps they bear testimony to the irrepressible Christian faith in life conquering death.
Behind the altar stands a large icon of St Paul (who else?) written by our guide. It was in the traditional, Byzantine style, but with innovations. An extinct New Zealand bird sat on Paul’s shoulder. The iconographer was a New Zealander. The bird had been hunted for its feathers, which conferred status and were sacred to the Maoris. Not only was this an ecological comment, it also symbolised crucifixion, so central to Paul’s theology.
Next to the imposing Baptismal font stands the Christ Candle, also our guide’s work. The candle had been used, so some of the decoration was missing. But under the crucifix there remained a Maori Meeting House. When an earthquake destroyed a particular Maori village, the people ran into the Meeting House and were safe. Thus it acquired a sacred significance. Later, when a chief of the village moved to England, he arranged for the Meeting House to be re-located in Somerset. That Maori Chief was our guide’s grandfather. He connects the power of the Meeting House to save the people from destruction with the power of baptism to save us from slavery and death.
We gave only a brief nod to Henry Moore’s moving sculpture of Mother and Child, and Homan Hunt’s “Light of the World” as we had studied these before.
Beside the great western doors, which only open for royalty and for ordinations (our guide was ordained here), stand two large icons done by iconographers in a monastery in France. Standing before the Pantocrator (Christ, the Ruler of All) we discussed the hand of Christ raised in blessing. “The two vertical fingers point to heaven, while the thumb and fourth finger form a circle representing the earth. Christ is the bridge between heaven and earth.”
Our guide’s explanation was a new one for me. I understood the two raised fingers proclaimed the two natures of Christ and the other three expressed God as Trinity, the faith of the Nicene Creed in summary. Opposite stands a Mother of Tenderness icon, beautifully executed, blending emotion and theology. Mary’s sad penetrating gaze expresses the mystery of life and death. She sees the crucifixion of the child, Emanuel, that she embraces lovingly, holding the child with cheek touching cheek.
“It took some time for the Cathedral to embrace icons,” said Regan, “Only for about 20 years have they been included, but now, in both traditional and contemporary forms, they are a major feature, adding significance to the spiritual experience in this house of God.
Passion, Lament, Glory
(This review comes to us courtesy Classic Melbourne: www.classicmelbourne.com.au)
What a brave, exotic and sacred feast was consumed here! Artists from Melbourne Conservatorium of Music showed skill and brilliance in daringly placing a sacred masterpiece within an new artistic landscape. It could have gone so wrong – but did not. Instead, it opened up greater possibilities of experiencing anew this most revered cherished and poignant story central to Christian culture, that of Christ’s Passion.
The desire to draw in the public to fully experience this multi-faceted performance of the Passion started the moment one entered the artistic spaces carved out of the wonderful late 19th century Butterfield interior of St Paul’s Cathedral. We entered in the fading light of an early autumn evening as the dimming outside light glimmered through the herringbone pattern of the clerestory. Underneath, the side aisle arches were subtly illuminated in an emerald green which shed a muted light, suitable to anticipate the sober nature of the story in music, dance and startling physical athleticism to be unfolded.
One had to work hard to even find a place to sit by the time the author arrived.
White elevated palisaded platforms provided the stages from which singing, the scourging of Christ and His Crucifixion was played out. In the Crucifixion scene a life-sized Cross was erected on the palisade in the transept. It was utterly realistic. The palisades struck just the right Roman military note for the scene in which the Passion of Christ actually took place.
The first soloist was soprano, Jacqueline Porter, with black lace veil falling behind her hair giving her a Spanish nuance, possibly an echo of Pergolesi’s association with Naples from 1725 and the Spanish influence of this city. The Salve Regina chosen was not the piece composed by Pergolesi, but by Georg Frederick Handel. Porter’s performance was beautiful and her strong, melodious voice resonated around the interior of the Cathedral. She was accompanied by organ and two violins of the Baroque Ensemble, all of them faultless performers.
The only note of doubt I experienced during the whole performance came with the entry of the grey wraith-like Greek Chorus of dancing women. I could not understand how their dance movements moved along or supported the vocals and story. However, this doubt dissolved as I saw one dancer make a move suggestive of the out flung arms of Christ on the Cross and was converted to the idea that their presence was prophetic and suggestive of the future agony of the crucified Christ. I had fully embraced this revised opinion of this Marian Guard by the end of the evening and was admiring of the grace, elegance and subtlety with which these singers, who were not trained dancers, moved. I particularly liked their part in the unfurling of Christ’s grave cloth and the tension of the interplay between the women and the dancer taking Mary as she tried desperately tried to snatch the cloth in which she would wrap her son.
The Narration by The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Rev Dr Andreas Loewe gave the imprimatur to this depiction of The Passion, lending gravitas and authenticity to the performance. His strong voice and clear diction ensured an assured rendition of the narrative passages, written from the standpoint of John The Baptist. (The writer was unnamed but the work was original and very moving). Heather Fletcher, who took the part of The Woman narrator, represented the fullest use of the talents of the performers, many of them used interchangeably as dancers, soloists, choristers.
The entry of Christ dragging his cross and the whole performance of Christ and his Roman guards was harrowing. The surprise pop-up choir technique was used to great effect at this point as witnesses to the action and the choir were more than able to handle this effect with a united voice of power and piety.
The peerless music of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater involved many soloists and Chorus, a standout voice being Amelia Wawrzon’s for fullness, melodious tone and beauty of line.
The role of Christ was delivered with utter conviction by Tim Rutty and many times I wished that I could not hear his piercing cries of pain as he was scourged and nailed to the cross. This was maybe too much realism. When I first read that there would be an acrobatic element to this performance and the aerial acrobatics were vested in the person of Christ himself I cringed.
However, I write with relief that the rope extending upwards into the high roof space of the Cathedral provided was a triumph of dramatic artistic association. Why has no one before depicted the Ascension of Christ like this?
I will long remember and savour this depiction of Christ’s Passion, aptly titled Passion, Lament, Glory.
Writer’s note: This was a production of the University of Melbourne, ARC Centre of Excellence History of Emotions. I did not know that this centre existed but know now that it needs to exist! I will be visiting the National Gallery of Victoria to view their exhibition “Love: Art of Emotion 1400-1800” as soon as possible.
Poems for the Children
Abraham and the Covenant
(prepared for the children, inspired by Craig’s talk at the service February, 2017)
Craig held the Bible in his arms and in a voice so clear
Moses And the Covenant
The second Book Craig talked about is full of thrilling stuff