Dear Friends

I think as the diocesan Lent course just past had a fairly universal theme - 'Inspiring Vision', focusing on the place of art in prayer and spirituality - that it is worth looking at this again. It was a memorable course and fulfilled admirably the purpose of Lent, which is to help us reflect upon, and hopefully improve, our spiritual lives - but, of course, this does not have to be confined to Lent!

We listened to five podcasts (much to our relief the technology worked at each session!) in which a mixed group of people chose one painting and explained why it helped them in their spiritual quest. First of all, Bishop Martin chose 'The Holy Trinity' by El Greco - a picture with a mystical setting which points to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Next was The Reverend Lucy Winkett, who opted for 'The Scream' by Edvard Munch. The title of her talk was 'Prayer in Challenging Times', and the picture certainly conveyed not only the deep distress of the central figure but also the need for finding silence in a noisy world - something Lucy knows about all too well as she is Rector of one of the noisiest churches in central London, St James's, Piccadilly.

The following week it was the turn of the Archbishop of Canterbury, discussing 'The Calling of Levi' by Caravaggio, which has plenty of chiaroscuro, perhaps making it a little difficult to pick the characters out, although the theme of discipleship gave us plenty to discuss afterwards. For the fourth week, we considered 'L'Immensite' by Gustave Courbet, who burst onto the French art scene just prior to the Impressionists. This painting depicts a big sky - I assume on the Normandy coast - with plenty of angry -looking clouds, but also with the hint of a silver lining. We all agreed that Dame Patricia Routledge explained her choice of this work particularly well. As we only had five sessions for our Lent groups this year, we concluded with a consideration of the Chagall window in Chichester Cathedral. This was the choice of the Cathedral's Director of Music, Charles Harrison, another 'lay' person who nevertheless had a good grasp of the subject, and who pointed out the colourful and playful way in which Chagall, in his dream-like composition, uses a wide range of imagery to express the joyful and rumbustious character of this, the last psalm (psalm 150), in the psalter. The talk was entitled 'The Joy and Excitement of Prayer' and was a fitting note on which to finish a most fascinating series of talks and discussions.

Towards the end of one session, one member of the group suggested that I, too, should choose a work of art which is particularly helpful to me - a hard task since there are so many! However, as this is being written for the May edition of the magazine, and, on 31 May, the Church will be celebrating the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, perhaps I might suggest 'The Visitation', which was painted in 1491 by Domenico Ghirlandaio and may be seen in the Louvre.

A 'merrie May' to you all.

Stephen

Domenico Ghirlandaio: Visitation.
Domenico Ghirlandaio: Visitation. Source: Wikipedia Commons